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Headache causes and remedies

After a whole lifetime’s experience of headaches, one thing I can tell you for sure is that this page is not long enough to list all of the possible causes and remedies!

You should, of course, consult a doctor if the problem is accompanied by other worrying symptoms, but statistics show that less than 1% of headaches are caused by a dangerous medical condition.

Bearing in mind that taking painkillers too frequently can actually increase the number of headaches, I would advise you to try to keep medication as a last resort. Painkillers containing codeine appear to be more likely to trigger extra headaches than paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Some of the commonest classes of headache are tension-type headaches and migraines. Tension headaches often give me the feeling of a band tightening around my head, or start with an ache in my neck. Some of my friends know they are about to get a migraine headache when they see flashing lights or zigzag lines in their eyes. Migraine pain typically affects one side of the head and comes with a feeling of nausea.

But what actually causes the headaches? I’ve read a lot on the subject, and consulted with many physicians, and it’s clear that even the most knowledgeable experts cannot explain the cause of every headache.

Dehydration is one simple cause. Presence, or excess, of a number of different substances in the body can trigger headaches – and each of us has different sensitivities in this respect. Looking at the complicated physiology going on in the head, it seems that constriction and dilation of blood capillaries may have a lot to do with headaches. In the case of tension headaches, the cause can be directly physical, such as sitting in an uncomfortable position that puts pressure on muscles in the neck, but anxiety or stress can have the same effect by making those muscles tense.

If you are prone to headaches, the list of triggers that can set them off is almost endless. Here are just a few: alcohol, certain foods (often cheese and chocolate, but you can be allergic to just about anything), lack of sleep, too much sleep, changes in the weather, work pressure, noise, bright lights…

So what are the best remedies? I would recommend that before you reach for a pill, you should first drink the glass of water that you were about to wash it down with. The water will rehydrate your brain, as well as helping to dilute and flush out harmful substances that may be contributing to the headache. Take some fresh air and exercise. Use a cooling pad to ease the pain. Consider the many alternative and holistic therapies and medicines available. But whatever you do, try to minimise your use of conventional painkillers or you may just make things worse.