Headache

Updated 27 May 2014

Interesting headache facts

Most of us get headaches at one time or another - and they're not pleasant. How many of these facts did you know?

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Most of us get these at one time or another. They could be stress-related, diet-related or hangover-related. Whatever the cause, headaches are a real pain and not only in the neck. How many of the following facts did you know?

Rebound headaches. One can get a headache from taking too many headache medications too often. This is called a rebound headache. It will not go away until the person stops taking the headache medication entirely. Overdosing on painkillers can damage your liver or your kidneys.

Migraines hereditary. Most children who get migraines have at least one close family member who suffers from migraines, too. If a child has one parent who suffers from migraines, they have a 50% chance of getting them too and if both are sufferers, this rises to 75%.

Headaches mostly harmless. While most headaches are uncomfortable and sometimes disabling, they are mostly not dangerous. Most of them can be cured by over-the-counter headache medications and by lying down in a quiet dark room for a while.

Headaches in ancient times. The ancient Greeks and Romans used peppermint tea to treat their headaches. But that wasn't the only thing they used – they also drank infusions made from camomile, rosemary and lavender. They also applied raw potato, cabbage and onion to the head in an effort to relieve headache.

Headaches in the USA. Migraine statistics in America are quite startling: Twenty-eight million Americans suffer from migraines. Of these people, 4.5 million have more than one attack per month. A quarter of the female population is affected and about eight in every hundred men.

Fasting can cause headaches. Fasting may cause headaches, as a fasting person is likely to have very low blood sugar. But other factors, such as stress, pollution, noise, smoke, flashing lights and certain types of food may also cause headaches.

Hormones and migraines. Migraines are related to hormonal fluctuations. Many women get migraines in the few days before the onset of their periods. Some women also get migraines during their menstrual periods.

The pill, headaches and stroke risk. Women who smoke and who are using oestrogen-based birth control pills have a higher stroke risk than women who are not smokers and who take a non oestrogen-based birth control pill. When women change to a low oestrogen-contraceptive pill, the frequency of their headaches are also reduced.

Lifestyle the cure. Lifestyle plays an important part in preventing headaches. If you don't smoke, don't drink excessively, get regular sleep, eat a healthy diet and get daily exercise, you are unlikely to suffer from headaches frequently, unless you have a medical problem.

Tension headaches the most common. Tension headaches can affect anyone and is the most common form of headache. Tension headaches are often the result of neck and shoulder muscles going into spasm and can sometimes last for days.

Men get cluster headaches. More men than women suffer from cluster headaches. These are intense headaches that often occur at the same time every day or every few days. These are debilitating, but usually don't last longer than 90 minutes. People who are heavy smokers or drinkers often suffer from cluster headaches. More women than men suffer from migraines.

Hangover blues. Hangover headaches are largely caused by acetaldehyde, which replaces the glucose molecules in the brain. Those with hangovers also suffer from dehydration and low blood sugar. Those with hangover headaches should drink large quantities of water or sugared tea – not sodas or coffee, as these can cause further dehydration.

Blood vessels the culprits. Headache signals do not come from the brain, contrary to what many people believe. These pain signals are caused by interactions between the blood vessels, the brain and surrounding nerves. The pain comes from activated nerves around the skull, blood vessels and the head muscles.

A hole in the head. In times gone by, headaches were often thought to be the work of evil spirits and rituals were performed to drive them off. In the Neolithic period, circular chunks of skull were removed in order to let the spirits escape. Oddly enough, people seemed to have survived these operations as skeletons have been found that showed new bone growth around these holes.

Ice cream headaches no myth. Ice cream headaches are no myth – you really can get them from eating this frozen dessert. This is caused by blood vessel spasms, which are caused by the intense cold from the ice cream. The spasms interrupt the blood flow and cause the vessels to swell.

Steer clear of these triggers. There are certain foodstuffs and beverages that can trigger migraines in certain individuals. These include coffee, chocolates, yellow cheese, other dairy products, red meat, nuts, vegetable extracts, foods high in monosodium glutamate and alcohol. These are the most common triggers, but individual sufferers may respond to a variety of different foodstuffs or beverages.

Most commonly-found pain. Headache is the most common cause of pain, which prompts patients to consult their GP. Most people, however, treat themselves with over-the-counter drugs and many migraine sufferers go undiagnosed. When people exceed the recommended dosage on a regular basis, the analgesics can in fact be the cause of headaches.

Kids get headaches too. Even children get headaches, some well before the age of 10. Before puberty, headaches are more common in boys. Adult women get headaches four times more often than men and these are linked to hormonal fluctuations. The severity and frequency of headaches decline with advancing years in both men and women.

Even philosophers get headaches. The philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, suffered from debilitating migraines for much of his life – often two or three a week. Doctors today think the chances are high that he had a brain tumour which caused these migraines and that explained his reasonably early death at the age of 56.

(Sources: Health24's Headache Centre; The People's Almanac. Editors David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace; wikipedia.com.)

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Dr Elliot Shevel - Founder and Medical Director - The Headache Clinic, (Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town) South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon.
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