Headaches are one of the most commonly experienced conditions by nearly all people. They tend to run in families, can be triggered by stress (trauma, anxiety, sleeplessness) and environmental factors (allergens, secondhand smoke, strong odors, weather changes), or they can be a symptom of another medical condition. Headache pain is found in your head or face, and can be described as sharp, dull, pressure, throbbing, or constant.
There are more than 150 types of headaches, but they fall into two main categories: primary and secondary headaches.
Primary headaches are those not related to another medical condition. These include:
• Tension headaches – most common type, can occur on both sides of the head
• Migraines – second most common, but with accompanying symptoms including nausea or vomiting, stomach/abdominal pain, sensitivity to light/sound/odors.
• Cluster headaches – occur 1-8 times per day during a cluster period, which may last two weeks to three months, usually spring or fall; appear behind or around one eye.
• New daily persistent headaches (NDPH) – come on suddenly and last for three or more months, located on both sides of the head.
Secondary headaches are related to another medical condition, like:
• Sinus congestion
• High blood pressure
• Head injury or other trauma
• Disease of blood vessels or a tumor in the brain
More About Migraines
Although migraines are the second most common type of headache, they are also the most mysterious, afflicting women more than men, and appearing often in people with a family history. And like headaches in general, they have several subtypes: menstrual, silent, abdominal, ophthalmic and many more.
Their exact cause is still scientifically unknown, although there are theories related to changes in your brain and genetics. Current thinking is a migraine likely starts due to overactive nerve cells that are triggered, cuing your body to release chemicals that cause blood vessels to swell and neurotransmitters to inflame.
Some of the most common headache and migraine triggers include:
• Hormone changes
• Foods, including alcohol & food additives
• Sleep changes
• Abrupt weather changes
• Medication overuse
• Sense stimuli, i.e., loud noises, bright light, strong smells
How migraines appear is different for each sufferer, but there are often 4 stages involved:
1. Prodrome – the early appearance of symptoms indicating a migraine onset is coming within hours or days; symptoms include fatigue, light/sound/smell sensitivity, food cravings or severe thirst, bloating/constipation/diarrhea, and mood changes.
2. Aura – nervous system disturbance usually involving your vision, which starts gradually and lasts an hour; signs include vision issues (tunnel, black dots, wavy lines, light flashes, vision loss), tingling/numbness or heaviness of the body, ringing ears, speech impairment.
3. Attack – a dull ache that gradually worsens to throbbing that can move around the whole head, often inducing nausea/vomiting and feeling clammy or faint; can last several hours to several days.
4. Postdrome – after the migraine subsides, you’re left feeling tired, cranky, weak, and with muscle pains and food cravings or lack of appetite. Some may emerge feeling refreshed.
Headache symptoms vary in intensity and duration depending on the type you’re experiencing (see above). Primary headache types range from mild, short-term aches (tension) to moderate or severe with pounding, throbbing, stabbing or burning pain that can last from a few days (migraine or cluster) to a few months (NDPH).
Secondary headaches are the symptom for a host of other conditions, and can be accompanied by additional discomfort, like fever, swelling, dizziness, seizures, and mucus discharge, among others.
Facial Signs of Headaches/Migraines
• Facial swelling
• Facial pain, especially cheekbones, forehead, around the eyes
• Dark circles under eyes
Testing and Treatment
Most people will experience relief from mild and infrequent headaches using self-care measures such as rest, cold compresses, hydration, and over-the counter pain medicines for short-term comfort.
Our clinic’s testing and treatment depend on the presentation and severity of a client’s symptoms, and includes an analysis of headache history, physical exam, and if provided, a neurological exam. We guide the patient on best practices for prevention and pain relief using a personalized treatment plan rooted in Functional Medicine to tackle each patient’s individual needs for the ultimate goal of long-term or permanent optimal health. Allergy, organ and meridian testing may also be employed to identify triggers, support findings and help pinpoint treatment areas.
We manage the headache severity and frequency using acupuncture and other protocols, as well as naturally through dietary adjustments and supplements, and with lifestyle & physical wellness coaching. Our alternative and complimentary methods may include: