Guide for successfully fighting against headache and migraine

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Headaches are a very common problem that most of you will experience many times in your life. There are different types of headaches like throbbing, constant, sharp, or dull. It can be treated with medication, stress management, and changing lifestyle and food.

If you are suffering from a headache you are not alone since headache is one of the most common pain conditions in the world. Up to 75% of the adult population worldwide suffers from headaches.

Headaches are a major cause of absenteeism from work and school. They also take a toll on the quality of life and family life.

What causes headaches

The headache is caused when your nervous system is feeling uncomfortable with the situation thus sending signals to your brain, blood vessels, and nearby nerves.

Common causes of headaches include:

  • Physical Illness. Physical illness like flu, common colds, fever often causes headache. In some cases, headaches can result from chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and hormonal imbalance.
  • Stress. Stress and depression is major cause of headache.
  • Environmental factors like strong smells from chemicals or perfumes, allergens, and certain foods triggers headache. Noise is also another key factor in some people.
  • Genetics. Some headaches tend to run in families. When both parents have migraines, there is very high chance that their child will also have them. Since the eating pattern and environment closely resembles to the parents.

Types of headache

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A headache is a primary headache when it’s a condition in itself and not caused by other factors. A secondary headache is a headache that is present because of another condition such as flu or stress.

Primary headaches

The most common types of headaches are tension headaches and migraines.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are usually felt like a band around your forehead. A tension headache is generally a mild to moderate pain in your head that can last for several days. They are often uncomfortable and tiring but not causing sleeplessness. Most people continue to work with this headache however they tend to worsen as the day progresses.


Migraines are also a very common headache that is experienced as one-sided and intense pain that may be throbbing and can affect your ability to do daily tasks. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and intolerance to light, sound, or smell. Migraines headaches can make you feel sick and can be severe enough to cause disability.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches cause excruciating pain and they occur in clusters, often every day for a number of days. Then they disappear for several months, it’s uncommon and mostly affects adult male smokers. It’s very severe one-sided headaches that can disable those affected.

Chronic tension headaches

Chronic tension headache is a persistent and ongoing headache that usually is caused by muscle tension in the back of the neck. These headaches can be caused by injuries or tiredness and may be made worse by medication overuse.

Medication-overuse headaches

Medication-overuse headache is a chronic headache caused by taking painkillers for headaches. When you take painkillers often for headaches your body actually responds with more pain sensors. With large pain sensors, the head becomes super-sensitive and the headache won’t go away. So those affecting headaches should not overuse painkillers.

Exertion headaches

Exertion headaches are caused by vigorous physical activity such as running, coughing, having sex. If you have migraines you can be more prone to exertion headaches. Headaches related to sex is particularly worrisome since it can occur as sex begins, at orgasm, or after sex is over. Headaches at orgasm are most common and can be severe at the front, back of or all over the head.

Primary stabbing headaches

Primary stabbing headaches are sometimes called idiopathic stabbing headache that comes without a clear cause. These are short between 5 and 30 seconds and are very sudden and severe. They can occur any time and it feels like a sharp object is being stuck into your head behind your ear which can be frightening. They are more common in people who have migraines and are often felt in the place on the head where the migraines tend to occur.

Trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a type of headache that feels like extremely short bursts of electric shock-like pain in the face, nose, forehead, jaws, and lips. It is usually one-sided and is more common in people over the age of 50.

Some dangerous headache

All headaches are bad and some are serious in the sense that if you do not tackle them properly they may persist for the long term. However, a few headaches are signs of serious underlying problems. Dangerous headaches tend to occur suddenly and become progressively worse over time. They include the following:

Subarachnoid haemorrhage

Subarachnoid hemorrhage is dangerous and is caused when a small blood vessel bursts on the surface of the brain. The affected person may develop severe excruciating pain and a stiff neck which can lead to unconsciousness.

Meningitis and brain infections

Meningitis is an infection of the tissues around the brain and encephalitis is an infection of the brain itself. Brain infections are caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. They can cause a severe, disabling headache. Usually, become sick and cannot bear bright light, stiff neck.

Brain tumours

A brain tumor is a very uncommon cause of headaches that can be debilitating. Usually, the headache of brain tumors is worse and gets steadily worse progressively. It can sometimes be worse on coughing and sneezing.

How to prevent headaches

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1. Dehydration

Dehydration sometimes causes a headache and studies have found that chronic dehydration is responsible for headaches and migraines. Dehydration can worsen the symptoms of the headache so drinking water can help you relieve headache symptoms. To avoid dehydration headaches, drink enough water throughout the day and also supplement with water-rich foods.

2. Food rich in minerals

Minerals like magnesium, sodium, and potassium are important for countless functions in the body, including water balance, blood sugar, and nerve transmission. These minerals have also been shown to be a safe, effective remedy for headaches.

Studies found that magnesium deficiency may cause frequent migraine headaches, compared to those who don’t. However, taking minerals supplements can be helpful for headache and migraine patients.

3. Stress

Stress is the major contributor to headaches in all groups of people including children. Work-related stress causes severe headaches to some people and may even cause depression leading to suicide. So managing this stress can be life-saving to most people since stress not only cause headache, it can also cause several ailments like heart problems and diabetes. So taking frequent breaks, taking help when stuck, and working in a friendly environment is good for you.

4. Physical exercise

Physical exercise is one silver bullet along with a good diet which can solve almost all health problems including headaches. Exercise releases a feel-good hormone that reduces stress. Exercise also prevents several diseases which can cause headaches so regular exercise is good for preventing headaches.

5. Alcohol

Drinking alcohol may not cause headaches however some people who drink alcohol regularly often experience frequent headaches. Alcohol is a vasodilator so it widens blood vessels and allows blood to flow more freely which may cause headaches in some people. Additionally, alcohol is a diuretic, leading to fluid and electrolytes loss. This leads to dehydration which can trigger headaches.

6. Sleeplessness

Sleep deprivation can be a serious problem to your health in many ways and can cause headaches in some people. Studies found that those who sleep less than six hours per night are more prone to headaches and migraines. However, sleeping too much also triggers headaches so getting the right amount of sleep is important for those looking for natural headache prevention.

7. Avoid Foods High in Histamine

Histamine is involved in the inflammatory response found in certain foods like aged cheeses, fermented food, and cured meats. Studies found that eating histamine may cause migraines in those who are sensitive to it. Avoiding histamine-rich foods from the diet is a useful strategy for people who get sensitive to it and suffering from headaches.

8. Essential Oils

Essential oils are concentrated liquids that contain aromatic compounds from plants. They have many therapeutic benefits like peppermint and lavender are especially helpful when you have a headache. Applying peppermint and lavender oil has been found to reduce the symptoms of tension headaches and reducing migraine pain and associated symptoms.

9. B-Complex Vitamin

B vitamins are micronutrients that play many important roles in the body and some B vitamins may have a protective effect against headaches. Studies found that Vitamin B2, folate, B12, and Vitamin B6 may reduce headache symptoms. B vitamins are safe to take on a regular basis since they are water-soluble and excess is easily flushed out of the body.

10. Cold compresses

Using a cold compress may help reduce your headache by decreasing inflammation, slowing nerve conduction, and constricts blood vessels, which may reduce headache. To make a cold compress, fill a waterproof bag with ice and apply it to the back of the neck, head, or temples for relieving pain.

11. Food intolerance

Studies have found that food intolerances can trigger headaches. To identify if a certain food is causing frequent headaches removes the foods most related to your headache symptoms. Some foods like Aged cheese, alcohol, chocolate, and coffee are among the most commonly reported food triggers in people with migraines.

12. Tea or Coffee

Sipping on beverages like tea or coffee that contain caffeine may provide headache relief. Caffeine improves mood, increases alertness, and constricts blood vessels which reduce headache.

However, caffeine withdrawal also causes headaches if you regularly consume large amounts of caffeine and suddenly stop. Therefore, tea and coffee can help you relieve headaches, and also should be mindful of caffeine withdrawal.


Yoga is an excellent tool to relieve stress, increase flexibility and improve your overall quality of life. Practicing yoga may reduce the intensity and frequency of your headaches since it relaxes the mind and removes anxiety.

14. Avoid food preservatives

Certain food preservatives like nitrates and nitrites added to items like hot dogs, sausages, and bacon have been found to trigger headaches in some people. In order to reduce exposure to nitrites, limit or avoid processed meats in your diet and choose nitrate-free products whenever possible.

How to diagnose headache

You need to contact your physician if you have headaches often or if they are very severe. It’s crucial to diagnose headaches correctly so that specific treatment can be done. A complete physical examination, medical history, and your headache symptoms are analyzed, you can be asked the following questions about your headache:

  • Description headaches.
  • How you feel like.
  • Frequency of headache.
  • Duration of headache.
  • Intensity of pain.
  • Food or drink that caused trigger.
  • Coffee intake.
  • Stress level.
  • Sleep habit.
  • Physical activity and headache.
  • Any event triggering headache.
  • Other member of family with headache.
  • Headache location
  • Any chronic illness.
  • Any weakness, loss of taste or other body symptoms accompanying pain
  • How long the headache lasts.
  • History of headache treatment.
  • Any medication currently taking

Physical examinations for headaches

After asking questions your physician will perform the following physical examinations for signs and symptoms of an illness that may be causing the headache.

  • Fever
  • Infection
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness or tingling
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Balance problems, falling
  • Vision problems
  • Mental confusion or difficulty to speak
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea, vomiting

Neurological tests focus disorder of the central nervous system might be suspected in the development of serious headaches. These include:

  • Tumour
  • Abscess
  • Haemorrhage
  • Bacterial or viral meningitis
  • increased intracranial pressure
  • Abnormal build-up of fluid in the brain
  • Infection of the brain
  • Inflammation of the brain
  • Blood clots
  • Head trauma
  • Sinus blockage or disease
  • Injuries
  • Infections, such as Lyme disease

Although brain scan is important for ruling out other diseases like tumors, they do not help in diagnosing migraines, cluster or tension-type headaches. A CT scan or MRI can find if headaches are connected to an issue with your central nervous system. Both of these tests produce cross-sectional images of the brain useful in understanding the cause.


The best way to treat your headaches is to understand your triggers. Know your headache by keeping a headache journal. Once you find out your triggers, your doctor can provide you customized treatment. Counselings can help you handle your headache and lower your stress level.

Not all headache requires medication. A range of treatments is available which includes:

Stress management

Stress management helps you to cope with stressful situations. Relaxation techniques like yoga are helpful in managing stress. You use tools like deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and music to relieve your tension.


Biofeedback monitors your body with sensors. You can learn how your body responds to stressful situations and when you have a headache it can give useful health information like:

  • Your breathing speed.
  • Pulse rate.
  • Heart rate.
  • Temperature.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Brain activity.


Occasional tension headaches can be relieved by over-the-counter pain relievers. But avoid using it too often which can lead to a long-term daily headache.

For frequent or severe headaches, doctors may prescribe specific headache medications like Triptans and can stop a migraine attack. You need to take it if you get signs of an oncoming headache.

Drugs for high blood pressure, seizures, and depression are useful in reducing headaches.


Headache is a common problem faced by the majority of people. The majority of people facing headaches is not dangerous and it can be easily managed by avoiding triggers and making yourself resilient to the symptoms. You need a proper diagnosis for the chronic headaches to identify the root cause and eliminating that cause. Healthy habits like sleeping on time, eating a balanced diet, exercise and minimizing stress can help you avoid most cases of headache. However certain rare conditions need proper investigation and treatment with the help of experts and doctors with tests. If you are more prone to headaches you need to be mindful of triggers and avoid those triggers.

By John Gurung

A former software developer who is now a blogging enthusiast. A true digital nomad.

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