Headaches are sometimes a symptom of an undetected, underlying disorder. In fact, in almost a quarter of the disorder in question in this page (and there are few hundreds) headache is one of the possible symptoms. But, if you’re having headaches, it is very likely that they occur “spontaneously”, gradually developing (often without obvious cause), and disappear after a few hours without subsequent consequences. In other words, most of headache means that there is no serious disturbance in the head or elsewhere.
Headaches, no matter how painful they are, are probably insignificant and temporary difficulties caused by tension that strain muscle tissue or blood vessels in the head or neck. Speaking of which, brain tissue can never hurt; they are insensitive to pain because the brain itself has no sensory nerves. In this part of the body, sensitivity exists only in the meninges covering the surface of the brain, the skin and muscles of the skull, and in the numerous nerves that emerge from the skull to the head and face.
Some types of headache are not symptoms of some underlying disease nor insignificant and transient, and can be considered as specific diseases (one of the famous examples is a migraine). However, headaches that are described in the following sections, do not belong to this type. These are simple, common headaches that are so frequent that they almost can be considered universal weariness.
Depending on your physical and mental state, your headaches can be caused by any number of factors. These factors include stress, too little or too much sleep, excessive eating and drinking, noisy or stuffy environment, hard work indoors or outdoors, and so on. You may be able to determine what caused a specific attack, and maybe you will not. However, from a physiological standpoint, there are two important – and related – causes of pain, i.e. headaches. The first is tension due to strains of a face, neck and scalp muscles; the second is the swelling of local blood vessels causing them to strain. These are so-called tension and vascular headaches. If you, for example, were exposed to emotional stress, you might think that a headache is caused by concern or sorrow. In fact, stress may affected the condition of your body, creating physical voltage (tension) that led to the pain. Similarly, if you have worked for hours at a desk, headache is probably a result of cramped position, not mental effort.
The famous “hangover” headache after excessive alcohol consumption may be a consequence of dilation of blood vessels in the brain. Alcohol itself is a vasodilator, meaning it operates so that it dilates (widens) the blood vessels in the body. Tension headache can be a result of a straining of muscles in head due to vascular pain.
What to do?
If you occasionally have headaches for several years, you probably already know whether it is a migraine or not. However, if those headaches started only recently, you should first examine the possible cause. Headache that weakens at night probably isn’t a cause for concern. However, if the headache lasts more than 24 hours or occurs more often, two or three times a week, you should contact your doctor. The doctor will ask detailed description of the headache to be able to assess their significance. The doctor will ask you how long each headache lasted, which part of the head was affected, how often did they occur, does it occur at certain times of day, and whether it is associated with other symptoms, e.g. nausea or visual impairment. Doctor will probably ask if the headache is getting worse by changing the position or coughing. After you examination, the doctor may send you to a neurologist on diagnostic tests, i.e. to find possible hidden disorders of the central nervous system or other body part.
Self-help: in the case of simple tension or vascular headaches, one or more of the following measures should help you. First, try to relax. Stretch and massage the muscles of the shoulders, neck, jaw and scalp. Take a bath, lie down and put your warm, dry clothes – or cold and wet clothes, if you prefer – on the painful area. Drink fruit juices or other non-alcoholic drinks, and take some ”weak” pain killers, e.g. aspirin or paracetamol. The oldest and, with time, confirmed cure – well-slept night – often is the best solution.
Professional help: if the diagnosis shows that you do not have any serious, undisclosed illness, the doctor will be able to only recommend self-help measures that we have already mentioned. There is only the possibility to prescribe you a stronger painkiller.