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How to deal with headaches

If you’re constantly clutching your head because it aches for no apparent reason, it’s important to find out why. Here are the three types of primary headaches and how to deal with them.

health and fitness Updated: Mar 20, 2010 17:15 IST
Parul Khanna
Parul Khanna
Hindustan Times

The pain truthSometimes, it really baffles you. The fact that your head hurts, that is. Because there seems to be no reason why. Yes, you did have a headache last week, but that was because you were out in the sun all day. Then there was the headache that accompanied a cold. And, the day you were so involved in your work that you didn’t step away from your computer for even one second…naturally, by the end of the day, your head hurt.

But this throbbing pain that just won’t go away. What’s this about? “There are three main causes of the primary headaches that people usually experience,” says Dr Rajashekhar Reddi, senior consultant neurologist, Max Healthcare. “Primary headaches are not caused by medical conditions, such as a fall or a disease, but are a result of environmental factors.”

Repeated episodes of headaches can be debilitating however, so it’s essential to know what is causing the pain and the correct treatment for it. One way to find out, says Dr Reddi, is to keep a headache journal. “Pen down how it started and try and see a pattern. You will be able to know what kind of headache you have. It is also effective to know what are you allergic to in case you have migraines.”

Here are the three types of primary headaches, and how to deal with them.


A migraine is a type of headache that is commonly triggered by food or sleep or stress or all three. Says Dr Praveen Gupta, consultant neurologist, Artemis Healthcare, Gurgaon, “Seventy-five per cent of the times that you get a common headache, it is migraine. People are unable to detect it and label it as gas-related or exertion-created or another kind of headache. If you miss a meal, lose sleep, or have been travelling, you might trigger a migraine.” Migraine headaches can also be triggered by an allergy. “If you’re sensitive to alcohol, or if you give up smoking in an on-and-off manner, or if you’re taking certain medication, you may get an attack,” says Dr Gupta. “Tea, coffee, ice-cream, cheese, wine and, sometimes, perfume are the common triggers.”

Many other things can trigger a migraine. Extremes of weather, noise, confusion, negative thinking and depression can all precipitate a migraine.

Symptoms: Throbbing and pulsating pain on one or both sides of the head. You might mistake it for gas because your stomach can feel bloated and the headache might be accompanied by nausea. While you have the headache, you might feel sensitive to light and sound. The pain can continue for anything between six hours and three days, and it can get worse with physical activity, says Hakim Mohammad Tariq of the board of physicians at Hamdard (Wakf) Laboratories.

The above are the symptoms of the common migraine headache that affects 75 per cent of us, more women than men. Another kind of migraine is called the classic migraine. This affects 15 per cent of us. “You might get a jarring headache that lasts up to two hours. It might start with flashes of lights and visions, and your field of vision (ability to see sideways) gets restricted. This will be followed by the headache,” says Dr Reddi. A migraine pain can also go to the neck.

Remedy: To prevent a migraine, make sure your life follows a regular pattern. Have your meals on time, sleep on time and avoid extreme temperatures (carry a sunshade if you’re going out during the day), advises Dr Gupta.

Meditation and yoga are also known to help keep a migraine headache away, he adds. If you still have migraine attacks in spite of this (because migraines are also genetic), or if you have more than three headaches a month, then you must visit a specialist to take preventive medicines.

In case of a migraine attack, keep an analgesic like dispirin or crocin handy. Doctors advise that it is best to take the medication as soon as the headache begins. Switch off lights, reduce noise levels and try and sleep. If you are not allergic to tea or coffee, have a cup of either. It helps. “If you take the analgesic an hour after the headache starts, it won’t help,” says Dr Gupta. If the pain gets too much, go to a doctor for an injection. But analgesics are not a long-term solution. Once you know for certain that you have migraines, go to a doctor for proper treatment.

Tension headaches

These stem from muscle contractions in the face, neck and scalp because of tension or stress. Says Hakim Mohammad Tariq, “Muscle tension headache is a condition that occurs due to tightness and inflammation of head and neck muscles. Major causes include fatigue, eye strain, stress, anxiety and depression.” Dr Praveen Gupta says that mental or physical exertions trigger this headache.

Symptoms: A dull headache with a feeling of pressure in the back of the head and tightness around the brain. If you feel relieved when the area is pressed, then you have this kind of headache. Symptoms of migraine, such as nausea and vomiting, are absent.

Remedy: Relax your muscles. Apply heat or ice, whichever you prefer, to ease the tension. Use a warm compress, a hot towel or a hot bath or shower. If cold is your choice, wrap your ice pack in cloth before using it. A massage may help to relieve muscle tension, and it may also provide relief from the headache. Gently massage the muscles of your head, neck and shoulders with your fingertips. Analgesics are effective against episodic tension type headaches.

Chronic daily headache

This is precipitated by stress, too much thinking or confusion, says Dr Praveen Gupta. Type A personality people who get worked up easily are generally prone to this type of headache, says Dr Rajashekahar Reddi.

Symptoms: A dull, aching pain that continues through the day, every day. It feels like a tight band around the head. While it doesn’t get worse, it is persistent.

Remedy: Doctors say that if you’re caught in a stressful situation, step back and allow your emotions to settle. Relaxation techniques are useful in coping with this kind of headache, including deep breathing, yoga and meditation. If anxiety or depression is an issue, visit a specialist. Doctors may prescribe antidepressants to prevent tension headaches and chronic daily headaches, says Dr Gupta.

Migraine inspired art

Some historians believe Vincent Van Gogh (self portrait, left) had visual auras, accounting for some of the artistic techniques evident in his work. Migraine-related hallucinations may have inspired the surreal, imaginary world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Claude Monet (self-portrait, right) was a painter whose works were thought to have been inspired by the bright colours he saw when he was having migraines. His paintings were full of light and are most sought after by art collectors.

Kitchen remedies

Blend dhania seeds with the juice of dhania patta and apply it to your temples for instant relief from a headache.

Prepare a paste of poppy seeds with water and apply it on the forehead.

Grind 7gm each of brahmi booti, kernels of almonds and black peppercorns in water. Strain the mixture. Add sugar and drink it on an empty stomach every morning for two weeks. It cures chronic daily headaches.

Mix 3gm black cumin with 10gm pure honey and lick the mixture.

Blend kernels of sweet almonds and 3gm poppy seeds in milk/water. Smear it on the palms and soles. It relieves headaches caused by sleeplessness.

Apply ground cinnamon paste on the forehead.

Pulp of amla applied on the head cures heaviness and migraine pain.

Make a paste of sandalwood in curd and apply it on your head. It soothes the brain.

Make a decoction of sugar and coriander seeds in 200ml of boiling water and drink it hot when you have a headache.

— Courtesy Hakim Mohammad Tariq

First Published: Mar 19, 2010 21:13 IST