7 Things You Don't Know About Headaches

Good Housekeeping

1. What's your type?
Experts say there are hundreds of different kinds of headaches. But, they fall into three basic groups, says National Headache Foundation director Seymour Diamond, MD. Tension headaches, which can be stress-related, involve tensed face and neck muscles, while vascular headaches can include migraines. The third major group of headaches includes those caused by other health conditions, like a sinus infection or a brain tumor.

2. Good and bad news about migraines
About 20 percent of women get migraines, but the painful events are not well understood. Previously, scientists and doctors believed that migraines might boost a person's risk of dementia and cognitive decline but a study of almost 40,000 women found no such link. However, a different study presented this year found that migraines with aura might contribute to heart attacks and strokes in women.

Related: 7 Things You Don't Know About Sleep

3. Blame your period
Of the 28 million Americans who get migraines, 70 percent are women. While men have relatively stable hormones, women's levels vary throughout their cycle, which can trigger menstrual or pre-menstrual migraines and tension headaches, explains Diamond. Women are also more genetically predisposed to migraines, he says.

4. Watch what you eat
Diamond finds that at least a quarter of his patients are helped by avoiding certain foods, including aged cheeses, chocolate, alcohol, and cured meats. "We call it a 'hot-dog headache,' he says. Another common trigger: skipping breakfast or lunch. He advises that headache-prone patients eat at the same time daily and not skip meals.

Related: 9 Simple Ways to De-Stress at Home

5. When lightning strikes
Weather changes can trigger headaches in some people, which may be linked to barometric pressure fluctuations. And, researchers at the University of Cincinnati recently found that chronic headache sufferers have a 31 percent increased risk of headache and 28 percent increased risk of migraine on days that lightning strikes within 25 miles of their homes.

6. Sleep and stress
It may not surprise you that skimping on snooze time can lead to headaches. But oversleeping can be a trigger, too, says Diamond. Due to interruption of their sleep patterns, many people get weekend migraines, he says. Stress hurts, too, he says: You may notice that you get headaches when a huge project lands on your desk at work or when deadlines are approaching.

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7. When to get help
While popping an over the counter painkiller can ease an isolated minor headache, there are some cases when your symptoms should send you to a doctor - stat. Stop self-treating and seek professional help if your headaches:

  • Interrupt your work or social life

  • Occur daily (or almost daily)

  • Are related to physical or sexual activity

  • Are accompanied by tingling or weakness (like in your hands), double vision, or any other neurological symptoms

  • Cause you to take over the counter medicines daily (or almost daily)

Your physician may prescribe preventive therapy or help you make lifestyle changes to combat chronic headaches.

How do you soothe a killer headache? Let me know in the comments!

--by Marnie Soman

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