migraineHeadaches affect just about everyone at some point and they can present themselves in many different ways.  Some people only experience pain in one part of their head or behind their eyes, some people experience a pounding sensation inside their whole head, and some people experience nausea, while others do not.  The pain itself may be dull or sharp and may last for anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.  Fortunately, very few headaches have serious underlying causes, but those that do require urgent medical attention.

Although headaches can be due to a wide variety of causes, such as drug reactions, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), tightness in the neck muscles, low blood sugar, high blood pressure, stress and fatigue, the majority of recurrent headaches are of two types:  tension headaches (also called cervicogenic headaches) and migraine headaches.  There is a third, less common, type of headaches called a cluster headache that is a cousin to the migraine.  Let’s start out by taking a look at each of these three types of headaches.

Types of Headaches

  • Tension Headaches
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Cluster Headaches

Avoid Headache Triggers

  • Stress may be a trigger, but certain foods, odors, menstrual periods, and changes in weather are among many factors that may also trigger headache.
  • Emotional factors such as depression, anxiety, frustration, letdown, and even pleasant excitement may be associated with developing a headache.
  • Keeping a headache diary will help you determine whether factors such as food, change in weather, and/or mood have any relationship to your headache pattern.
  • Repeated exposure to nitrite compounds can result in a dull, pounding headache that may be accompanied by a flushed face. Nitrite, which dilates blood vessels, is found in such products as heart medicine and dynamite, but is also used as a chemical to preserve meat. Hot dogs and other processed meats containing sodium nitrite can cause headaches.
  • Eating foods prepared with monosodium glutamate (MSG) can result in headache. Soy sauce, meat tenderizer, and a variety of packaged foods contain this chemical which is touted as a flavor enhancer.
  • Headache can also result from exposure to poisons, even common household varieties like insecticides, carbon tetrachloride, and lead. Children who ingest flakes of lead paint may develop headaches. So may anyone who has contact with lead batteries or lead-glazed pottery.
  • Foods that are high in the amino acid tyramine should also be avoided, such as ripened cheeses (cheddar, brie), chocolate, as well as any food pickled or fermented foods.