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It can drive you crazy – that dull aching pain that throbs in your head. For many of us they are quite rare, accompanying colds or flu. For others though, headaches are their constant companion. For these people the pain is severe, even disabling. They can make their lives a misery. So, what causes headaches? Are their different types? And what’s the quickest way to get rid of them?
A headache is actually a warning mechanism inside the head. It, like all pain, is a red flag telling you that some pain sensitive tissue is being stimulated and that action is required to remove the body from contact with the damaging stimuli. The brain itself is not a painsensitive tissue. Rather it is the stretching of the blood vessels or coverings of the brain that causes the discomfort. Headaches may also arise outside of the skull, being caused by stimulation of the nerve fibers in the walls of the arteries or within the powerful muscles of the head and neck.
The characteristics of the headache are determined by its point of origin. If the arteries are involved, the headache will be of a pulsing nature – reflecting the beat of the heart. If, however, the muscles are involved the ache will be more dull and constant. Over and above this headaches fall into two basic categories – organic and functional. Organic headaches accompany ailments to the nose and air sinuses, disorders of the teeth, jaw, eyes and ears, degenerative spinal conditions and inflammation of the arteries of the forehead. They may, of course, also be due to a more serious problem such as a tumor.
Functional headaches are due to some specific disturbance of function. About 90 % of headaches are of this variety. They are not due to any disease of function and, therefore, not as serious a concern as organic headaches. They are, however, a sign of disturbed function.
In the immediate treatment of your headache self medication with an analgesic or pain relieving drug may be your first stop. Preparations that contain amidopyrine or phenacetin may be harmful and are best avoided. Stick with a simple drug like aspirin or paracetamol. If necessary, repeat the recommended dosage after 3 or 4 hours. Lying down for about a half hour in a quiet, semi-darkened room will also bring some comfort. Heat applied directly to the head and neck by means of hot towels and a gentle neck and shoulder massage may also help. Cold compresses or even ice packs may similarly bring some relief.
If your headache cannot be relieved by such measures, it may be prudent to consult your doctor. Keep in mind, too, that headaches are a symptom to a deeper cause. You should work on eliminating or avoiding these predisposing factors. Overindulgence in food and alcohol as well as exposure to ill-ventilated, stuffy atmospheres are known to be triggers to headaches. Fatigue, stress, anxiety and overexcitement also may lead to a headache. An adjustment to one’s lifestyle, then, may go a long way to relieving headaches.
Headaches are a real pain. To prevent their recurrence try to maintain as calm, sensible, moderate and healthy a life-style as possible. That way you’ll get a lot more out of life – without the headaches.

Always talk to your doctor about your headaches. You need to make sure nothing serious is going on.