What Causes Headaches
A senior-specific discussion of headaches, their types and causes.
It's a rare individual who has never experienced a headache. According to the National Headache Foundation, (NHF) in Chicago, more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches. We spend approximately 4 billion dollars annually on over-the-counter medicines to combat the pain.
About 90 percent of all headaches are tension headaches, formerly known as muscle contraction headaches. The other 10 percent are made up of vascular and organic headaches.
People age 50 and older should be aware of two particular types of headache which can affect them.
The first, brought on by a condition called temporal arteritis, is a burning, boring or jabbing pain in the temple and is caused by swelling of the temporal arteries. It can produce pain around the ear when chewing and the incidence increases with age. This problem must be tended to by a doctor immediately, because it can lead to blindness or double vision, if left
The second type is from hypertension. Physicians see this type of headache in certain patients who have a blood pressure of 180/110 or higher. These headaches are usually worse in the morning. When your blood pressure is brought down, the headache goes away. Not all hypertension sufferers experience it.
People who drink large quantifies of coffee, soda or tea might notice a headache when they haven't had any caffeine in a while. Experts say this is caused by caffeine withdrawal. Unfortunately, as you mature, your tolerance for caffeine decreases, making it more important to monitor your intake.
Tension headaches are usually categorized into "episodic" or "chronic." The episodic tension headache is triggered by something in your environment or internal stress. This type lasts as long as the stress is present. It may disappear with over-the-counter medications, withdrawal from stress or a brief period of relaxation.
The chronic tension-type headache is a daily or continuous headache, that may wax and wane in severity, but is always present. Patients report soreness and a sensation that a tight cap is around their head. Sleep problems are also common with chronic tension-type headaches.
Vascular headaches are made up of cluster types and migraine. Many people use the term "migraine" to describe any severe headache. However, a true migraine is associated with one-sided pain, a throbbing or pulsating quality, the presence of nausea and increased sensitivity to light or sound. Migraines often run in families.
About 70 percent of all migraine sufferers are women, many of whom experience increased symptoms just before, during or after their menstrual cycle. This type of headache is far more common during the reproductive years, leading doctors to believe the hormone estrogen plays a role. The good news is migraine headaches are less frequent in the mature
Cluster headaches occur in groups or clusters when something causes changes in the blood vessels in the head. The precise cause is unknown. In most cases the pain lasts from 30 to 45 minutes and cluster patients suffer one to four attacks a day during a "cluster period."
Men, between the ages of 20 and 60, are more likely to suffer cluster type headaches, especially if they have a long history of cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption.
Organic headaches encompass any headache which doesn't fall into the tension or vascular categories. They may be caused by a wide variety of ailments such as, allergy, arthritis, infection, tumor, sinus infection or trauma. In addition, organic headaches can be attributable to disease located within the head or to disease that affects the body as a whole.
The foods you eat can trigger headaches. Nitrites are one common example. An additive found in foods, such as hot dogs and bacon, nitrites may cause dilation of blood vessels in the head and trigger migraines. Some other potential food culprits include:
Caffeine in excessive amounts
Foods fermented, marinated or pickled
Lentils or snow peas
Nuts, peanut butter
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)