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Why you should take headaches more seriously

Suffering from continuous headaches? Pay more attention to frequent headaches, it might be something more sinister.

Written by Dr Arjun Srivatsa |Updated : March 26, 2015 3:12 PM IST

HeadachesEver suffer from a bad headache and wonder why you were experiencing one so often? Well, popping a painkiller every now and then to soothe that throbbing head is fine, but a constant or severe headache could mean much more. Here is what Dr Arjun Srivatsa, renowned neurosurgeon has to say about the condition and why you should pay more attention to it:

Causes aplenty

A headache can be caused by localised conditions like a toothache, infection in the ear, problems or infections within the nose and other structures on the face, intracranial problems (problems within the skull) which are the major contributors of headaches and vascular causes popularly known as a migraines. Other causes include high blood pressure, strokes, aneurysms etc. It is the commonest cause for worry amongst patients and often causes so much discomfort that in severe cases it may hamper a person's day to day activities. (Read: Headaches why you should take them more seriously)

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The symptoms provide clues

The type of headache often indicates the cause for the headache. Headaches, with vomiting and weakness of the limbs often signify a space occupying lesion in the head. Those that are shifting in nature and with an aura are can indicate a migrainous headache and those that occur in the front of the head, and increases on bending would indicate frontal sinusitis (infection of the frontal sinus). (Read:Migraine: Facts you should know)

They affect children too

Headaches were earlier the prerogative of adults. We now find that a larger number of children suffering from headaches. In most cases they suffer from stress headaches, that are usually due to emotional issues at home, problehyms with friends at school, tension to perform and the peer pressure syndrome. Other factors include, problems in proper visual acuity or being able to see things clearly, squinting (or slight squint in the eyes) etc. Here is where it is important that the child get his/her eyes tested. Another startling fact is that there is a marked increase in the number of children suffering from migraines. The positive aspect is that headaches in children are usually without a brain disorder, and can be taken care of fairly easily.

Know when to take headaches more seriously

All headaches are not serious. But there are a few signs that indicate a more serious reason behind the pain. Here are some of the indicators:

  • change in the type of headache as compared to the ones experienced earlier
  • increase in the severity of the headaches
  • headaches which do not reduce even after medications
  • early morning headaches
  • headaches accompanied with severe vomiting

A sudden, severe pain along with other symptoms could indicate other serious conditions and require immediate medical attention. Look for these symptoms:

  • sudden onset headache in which a person may lose consciousness indicates bleeding into the brain. This bleeding can either be due to the sudden increase in blood pressure or rupture of a blood vessel (also known as an aneurysmal bleed). An immediate CT scan and CT angiogram will help diagnose it
  • high fever and stiffness in the neck along with a headache usually points towards an infection of the covering of the brain also called meningitis
  • brain tumors usually present with slow headaches and in the later stages is associated with vomiting

Diet modifications can help in some cases

Icecreams, chocolates, bananas are the common kinds of foods that can cause migraines. Foods high in tyramine which includes processed meats, pickles, onions, olives, certain types of beans, raisins, nuts, avocados, canned soups, and red wine can also cause headaches. Avoiding these could help to some extent. In the case of migraines people should avoid bright lights, watching too much TV, using the phone excessively. Some strong odours and smoke can lead to a headache as well. (Read:Migraine: Facts you should know)

Different types of headaches require different treatments

Treatment is usually aimed at the cause of the headache. In cases like tension headaches or migraines, the doctor may advise only medical management, where the patient is given pain killers to ease the discomfort.

Another approach is to weed out the root cause of the headache and treat it accordingly. In the case of a more serious condition like an aneurysm, one may need surgical intervention. Headaches due to hypertension are usually treated with medication, but those that are due a stroke are treated by stopping the progress of the stroke (easing the flow of blood to the blocked region), thereby stopping the headache.

Once the triggers for headaches are known and established, they are best avoided. Especially so in the case of migraines where bright lights or certain smells could act as triggers.

(Read:Eight ways to keep stroke at bay)

Visit your doctor in case of a severe headache

Your local physician is the best person to see for severe headaches. He will be able to evaluate you at an overall level and then refer you to the right kind of specialist, if needed.

If there are any signs of problems in cognition, consciousness, understanding things, control of emotions etc. going to the hospital emergency is the best bet. Wasting time looking for a specialist neurosurgeon or neurologist in such a case is usually not a good idea.

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