Submitted Aug 22, 2003   Updated Sep 26, 2010
By Ray Fosterrlf@mt-rushmore.net


Headache is a big topic. I suspect that there are relatively few listeners today who have not experienced headache.

Headache's frequency is partly related to the multiple situations that can trigger headaches and to the multiple types of headaches.

What are some of the common causes of headache?

3 common benign headaches are the, migraine, Tension Headache and Chronic Daily Headache.

Migraine headache would be usually expected to start age 10 to 30 years; last about 4 to 72 hours; and be a pulsatile headache. It can occur at any time of the day, its location might feel behind the eyeball, or in the temporal area. It can be one-sided. It may be associated with nausea or vomiting, and bright lights or loud noises may be irritating.

Tension headache may begin at any age, and has a wide range of duration from 30 minutes to 7 days. It can occur occasionally or even daily. It is often worse in the afternoon. It tends to feel dull and aching perhaps band like. It will often be on both sides of the head perhaps in the temporal areas. Or it might be in the area near the base of the skull on the back side.

Chronic daily headache may begin at age 30 to 40 years. It tends to be constant, and daily. Frequency, quality, and location may be variable. Sometimes excess use of pain relieving medication or mental illness may be associated.

We know that headache can sometimes represent serious illness, when should we be more concerned about the headaches?

If the headache is severe and of sudden onset so that you can pinpoint the exact time of onset of the headache and have not had a similar headache before; this might be bleeding inside the skull--Subarachnoid hemorrhage. Subarachnoid hemorrhage may benefit from surgery. Cluster headache is a type of headache that often occurs in men and is very severe but curative treatment might still be difficult.

If headaches begin after age 50, then the chance of more serious problem is increased. A scan to rule out tumor or subdural hematoma might be considered by your doctor in this situation.

If the headache is always on one side, then migraine or cluster headache may still be the cause; this would not be as common in tension headache, but your doctor might still want to rule our tumor.

If fever is present, the problem becomes more difficult.

But don't we often have headache when we get a cold or a flu, don't feel well and have a fever?

Yes it is true that headache often accompanies illness, but if fever is high over 104 degrees orally, this is more worrisome. Also if a person has a stiff neck--the head does not want to bend forward, or it is quite painful to bend the head forward; this is concerning in the presence of high fever. In this situation, get medical help promptly! Meningitis, or other serious infection might be present. This neck stiffness might also occur if tumor spread inside the spinal canal.

Behavior or personality change is another warning sign.

But I understand that depression is often associated with headache and depression may also be associated with change in behavior.

Again having a common association of a serious presentation with a common one like you mentioned makes it more difficult to sort out.

Depression can sometimes be serious, of course; and is usually quite unpleasant but usually is not, on the short term, a major danger to life.

Tumor, encephalitis-or inflammation of the brain might be present. And depression is also a possibility.

Do changes in the vision make headache more worrisome?

While migraine headaches may sometimes be associated with flashing lights or other similar sensations; decreased vision in both eyes may represent other disease. If the vision is not corrected with glasses, then an immune problem or infection affecting part of the visual pathway may be a problem.

Walking in an abnormal way can sometimes be caused by a stroke, but what about abnormal or funny gait when it comes with a headache?

Hydrocephalus, a condition where the central fluid area of the brain becomes too large, tumor, and subdural hematoma might be considered.

Sometimes even endocrine change can signal serious disease when associated with headache. A common problem that some our listener's have probably had is jaw pain. How does this relate to headache?

Temporomandibular joint syndrome is very common. People may note grinding or cracking sensation when chewing and pain in the jaw area. This is common and often not associated with serious disease, but if pain occurs while chewing and the person is generally ill; this might be more serious. Sometimes there might be tenderness over the artery in the temple area. Temporal arteritis can be a serious problem.

That gives us an overview of some of the causes of headache, are pain medications a good idea?

It is interesting that although there are many causes of serious headache, the treatment for them is often quite similar. An individual might often purchase prescription or nonprescription NSAID medication such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen to treat the headache. Other medication such as acetaminophen or caffeine might also be used. These medications often help with the short-term pain control, but the body might actually have a headache because of these medications.

If you use these medications, then stopping them might lead to a headache lasting for a day to several days. But you might be pleasantly surprised at the benefit that you obtain after this withdrawal period.

The book Proof Positive by Neil Nedley, M.D. offers us some insight.

Either or both of two receptors (adenosine and acetylcholine) transmitters may be related to caffeine withdrawal. Caffeine partly blocks an important action of adenosine: relaxation or dilation of blood vessels—particularly those in the heart and brain. When caffeine is habitually consumed, the brain increases the numbers of adenosine receptors attempting to give adenosine a more normal role because of caffeine’s competition. When caffeine is removed increased receptors are still there for a short time. Then adenosine can cause blood vessel relaxation. Relaxed blood vessels to the brain may increase blood flow, and thus brain congestion.

Stopping smoking can also cause a nicotine withdrawal headache within the first 3 day.

Opiate medication such as codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, and others may help with pain on the short term also; but cause a withdrawal syndrome of increased pain perception.

So it sounds like pain medication may actually be causing us longer-term difficulties even though they might help with short-term pain.

Yes and these drugs are usually better avoided, whether NSAIDS, caffeine, acetaminophen, or nicotine. Even vitamin supplementation in excess may be a problem.

The fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K, are more difficult for the body to eliminate. Some people have taken vitamin A in supplements and have become ill as a result. 25,000 IU of vitamin A per day (about 5 times the amount needed to prevent nutritional deficiency) might cause problems as diverse as liver trouble, headaches, hair loss, dry skin, bone pain, and joint aches.

Television is a component of many American lives; does it play a role in headache?

In 1976, the Detroit Free Press conducted a survey to help determine why their newspaper circulation was decreasing. The survey results showed that most people received their news and information from television.

The Detroit Free Press did not stop with their survey. For 120 families, the paper offered $500 to any family who would give up television for one month. 27 families accepted their offer, 93 families declined. The newspaper company installed electronic devices that would interfere with any television used on their premises.

Family members manifested actual withdrawal symptoms. Insomnia and headaches were common. One man, noted for being a kind husband, lost his cool during the first week, became irritated, and began beating his wife. However, throughout the month attitudes changed. At the end of the month all 27 families said that it had been a good experience.

What foods do you recommend and what foods should those with headaches avoid?

Alcohol, chocolate and cheese are three of the big problems. But I recommend going to a completely plant-based diet for 10 days. Try eating no meat, or dairy products during this time. And use no caffeine containing beverages either. This alone will have a big impact on headache.

Are there other factors than diet that we should discuss?

The scheduling of our activities plays quite a role in headaches. Perhaps you have traveled to an area three or more time zones different from home. After you arrived, you might have felt more tired than usual and perhaps had a headache. Changing the scheduling of our activities can occur at home too. Working different shifts may do this, or even staying up late on the weekend can leave us feeling tired and give us a headache the next day. Try to keep rising time the same nearly every day. Eating meals near the same time may also be helpful. Try to get to bed also near the same time each day.

Drinking water may help with headaches for many. Adults over 120 pounds, try drinking 2 to 4 quarts of water per day. Drinking more than 4 quarts may not be a good idea if you don't sweat a lot that day.

Can exercise get rid of a headache?

Sometimes, going for a walk outside may relieve a headache quite dramatically. This is natural and healthful, so consider giving it a try. But sometimes the headaches persist in spite of this. I think that exercise is very helpful in preventing headaches and somewhat helpful in treating headaches that are already established.

Yes, exercise such as a walk outside is relaxing and is one aid in feeling peaceful.

Peace is very important in the area of headache. And while exercise does help to relax us, another factor that is very important is forgiveness.

We cannot really relax when we are holding a grudge against another person.

I suspect that many of us can identify with getting a headache when we felt angry with another person over a period of minutes to hours. But there may also be a longer-term anger that burrows its way deep into our everyday activities, not infrequently just a little below our conscious thoughts. This anger occasionally surfaces throughout our week and in response we allow ourselves to become stressed.

So what do we do with that burrowing anger?

We need to forgive. We must not wait until we view all scores as settled either fairly or else in our favor. If we wait for this, we will probably die before we are satisfied. In this way we choose to live our lives in anger. If we choose forgiveness, then we do not need to see the matter settled in our favor; and we may choose to put the anger behind us quickly.

Forgiveness is a gift from God, so let's just ask Him for it.

Tell us a little more about the kind of diet that would be helpful for headaches.

Eat a simple plant-based diet. Eat whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables, and a small amount of nuts. Eat at regular times and do not eat a big meal in the evening, keep the evening meal at least 5 hours away from bedtime.

Eliminate snacks and drink plenty of water instead: for a typical adult about 2 to 4 quarts of water. The prospect of not eating snacks might be a little concerning to some of our listeners, but the body adapts to the new program very well. It might take 2 to 3 days for the body to adjust to the point that person feels fairly comfortable with this new program.

Avoid all soda drinks especially those containing caffeine. Take a vacation from chocolate--hopefully that will be a vacation that will continue through the years. Avoid highly spiced foods, and very hot or very cold foods. Allow enough time to eat so that the meal is not rushed.

Are there some specific things that we might do if we develop a headache?


Place the feet in a tub or this water with a towel or sheet over the legs making a little tent. Allow soaking to continue to comfort perhaps 20 to 30 minutes.

Getting into a jaccuzi - the hotter the water (within reason) the better, with ice on arms and neck and head will stop a migrane for several hours.  This can be repeated until the migrane stays away!


2. Neck stretching exercises: for those with tension type of headache, try these three stretching exercises:

      1. put both hands together around the back of the head and pull forward with gently increasing but firm pressure. Hold the pressure for about 1 minute.
      2. put right hand around back of head with fingers toward the opposite ear, and put left hand cradling the right side of the jaw, twist the head to about 45 degrees and pull forward with the hand over the back of the head. Hold the pressure for about 1 minute.
      3. this is the same as the maneuver above, but reversed: put left hand around back of head with fingers toward the opposite ear, and put right hand cradling the left side of the jaw, twist the head to about 45 degrees and pull forward with the hand over the back of the head. Hold the pressure for about 1 minute.
1. A hot foot bath may be very soothing. Get some warm water-not so hot that it is burning. For diabetics and those with severe artery disease allow the water temperature to be about 100 degrees.