Headaches…they’re a pain in my…well…head!
We all experience them, and we all experience them in our own ways.
Headaches can be quite unique to the sufferer, and there are many factors that can cause them to come on. Some may notice them when they haven’t been drinking water for several hours, others notice them when they’ve been staring at a bright screen for too long. For me, I can feel one coming on when I’ve had my hair tied back too tight and for too long.
Categories of Headaches
These are the most debilitating in nature. When I get these, I have to leave wherever I am and get to a dark and quiet room and sleep ASAP. The sufferer usually feels throbbing pain on one side of the head or behind the eyes and can be associated with nausea and vomiting.
Migraines can be triggered by stress, sensory stimulus (bright flashing lights, strong fragrances and loud sounds), sleep (either too much or too little), your environment (too hot or too cold), some foods (such as strong cheeses or chocolates), as well as certain medications. In women, frequency and severity of migraines can be affected by hormones so they can change around pregnancy and menopause. Migraines can last up to 72 hours.
These are the most common types of headaches. Tension headaches are the feeling of tightness or moderate pain across the forehead and the back of the neck, commonly caused by stress and may last for days.
These headaches can be caused by stress and anxiety, overuse of neck and shoulder muscles (poor posture eg. too much time spent hunched over at your desk), or long periods of time reading a book or staring at a bright screen.
Our sinuses are a connective system within our skull which is lined with tissue called ‘mucosa’. They are located in your cheekbones, lower center of your forehead, between your eyes and behind the nose.
Sinus headaches are caused by the lining of the sinus being inflamed, and feelings of congestion and facial pain occur. Hormonal imbalance is the main cause of this type of headache.
Common causes of sinus headaches are allergies, infections or colds.
Hormonal Headaches/Menstrual Migraines
These headaches occur around your monthly cycles. The menstrual migraines begin on the first day or two of menstruation and subside once it finishes, however, women can also experience headaches in the middle of their cycle.
Your hormones estrogen and progesterone increase or decrease depending on the time of your menstrual cycle. Estrogen causes blood vessels to dilate, and progesterone causes blood vessels to tighten.
As these hormones fluctuate, the blood vessels are constantly expanding and contracting causing pressure changes which result in painful headaches.
Some birth control pills can trigger hormonal headaches. Your active pills keep the hormones in your body steady, but when you take your placebo pills during the week of your period, your estrogen levels drop and your headaches appear.
Some women who have experienced hormonal headaches find relief during menopause, experiencing fewer headaches or less severe headaches, whereas other women notice more headaches at menopause. It is possible for women who have never had a hormonal headache to start having them.
The good news is hormonal headaches usually stop after menopause when hormone levels are consistently low.
Other causes of headaches
Fluctuating hormones aside, other causes of these headaches include HRT (how they affect your headaches will be different for every woman), alcohol (especially red wine) is a common cause of headaches, as well as caffeine, chocolate, and certain triggers such as bright or flashing lights, lack of sleep and stress. Certain foods that contain nitrates (hot dogs and lunch meats), MSG and aspartame (sweeteners) can be a headache trigger.
So what should you do?
Keep a headache journal
Note when you get them, what you were doing, eating and wearing at the time. This will give you an idea of any potential triggers around your headaches and what you should avoid.
Blood testing can be arranged to document changes that occur during your cycle, this can help to detect when in the cycle a headache is coming from, and figure out which hormone is causing the headache.
Maintaining a healthy diet and eating regularly to help maintain your blood sugar levels. Avoid any dietary triggers such as chocolates, aged cheeses, dairy products and foods containing nitrates, MSG, tyramine (in aged cheese, soy products, smoked fish and red wine) and aspartame.
Try reducing your stress, especially if you know stress is a trigger of your headaches. Try stress reducing exercises such as yoga or meditation. Stay hydrated, even if you think you are drinking enough, partial hydration can be causing some of your headaches.
As I mentioned earlier, hormonal headaches usually subside after menopause, however, if you are concerned, if you’re experiencing a new kind of headache or ‘the worst you’ve ever felt’ headaches, headaches that are causing you to wake up from your sleep, confusion, dizziness or weakness, then don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor regarding these symptoms.