Headaches: Myths & Facts

Headaches: We’ve all been there. The pain and discomfort in your head, neck, and shoulders. But not all headaches are created equal. Different types may include tension, migraine, cluster, rebound and even chronic daily headaches. Headaches can stop even the strongest and bravest in their tracks.

Different Types of Headaches:

Tension:  Tension headaches are usually the result of stress, anxiety, or depression. About 90% of headaches are tension headaches, and can be described as generalized pain all over the head.

Cluster:  Cluster headaches affect about 10 million people in the U.S. They are extremely painful, and can occur several times per day for months, and then go away for a while.

Hormone:  Women suffer from migraines three times more often than men because of ovulation. Menstrual migraines are caused by estrogen and progesterone changes in the body. Because oral contraceptives influence estrogen levels, women who take birth control may be more prone to these headaches.

Migraine:  Migraines are more than just a bad headache. It is actually a biological disease affecting more than 30 million Americans. It is estimated that 1 in 4 households in the U.S. has a migraine sufferer. They are more common than asthma, diabetes, and coronary heart disease combined.

I have been a migraine sufferer since middle school. I have tried different daily medications, as needed medications, and even kept food diaries to try to figure out why I would be locked in a dark room with an ice pack on the back of my neck. I may be able to put some of the blame on my mother, who also experiences chronic migraines, for passing this gene down to me.

Here’s some myths and facts about headaches and how we can suffer less:

Myth #1Hungover? Hair of the dog is the way to go. 

Bloody Mary’s may make you feel better the next morning after a night out, but putting more alcohol into your body is a temporary solution. The alcohol works on the neurotransmitters in the brain associated with pleasure. But your head hurts because your brain is dried up from the alcohol. Sports drinks are the best fluids to take because they are packed with electrolytes, which help regulate hydration.

Myth #2: Working out helps prevent headaches. 

Exercise is good for your body. Typically, exercise alleviates pain by releasing endorphins, and increasing blood flow to the brain, but in some cases, exercise brings on migraines. Dehydration, blood sugar drops, tightness in muscles of the upper body, or increases in blood pressure can lead to headaches.

Myth #3: Headaches are not an excuse for not completing tasks. It’s just a headache and you have to live with it. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), migraines are the 8th leading cause of disability in the world. The Job Accommodation Network estimates that 157 million workdays are lost in the U.S. annually due to migraine headaches. Headaches, especially migraines, can leave an individual bedridden, extremely fatigued, and even prevent an individual to care for themselves. The Social Security Administration recognizes chronic migraine headaches as a disability, but there are strict requirements that have to be met in order to receive benefits.

Fact #1: What you eat can be to blame. 

Many types of fast foods, canned foods, and processed foods can be triggers for headaches. These types of foods have chemicals like MSG which affect how you feel. Another cause can be the high fructose corn syrup. When people start to shy away from fast and processed foods, they may experience headaches and lethargy as withdrawal symptoms. Nitrates, aspartame or sucralose, and tyramine could cause headaches, but headache triggers do vary by individual, so it is important to keep a personal log to sort it out!

Fact #2: BOTOX can be used to treat headaches. 

You may think of Botox as a treatment to get rid of fine lines and wrinkles, but last year, the FDA approved Botox for treatment of chronic migraines in adults. The Botox works by blocking the nerve signals that cause the pain.

Fact #3: Some headaches may require a trip to the ER. 

Headaches may be associated with more serious conditions, such as a stroke, meningitis, or encephalitis. You should seek emergency care if you are experiencing the worst headache of your life, and associated with trouble understanding speech, fainting, a fever above 102 F, weakness or paralysis on one side of your body, a stiff neck, or trouble with seeing, speaking and walking.