The 4 types of headache and how to treat them
Everyone will experience one at some point in life - but not every headache is the same - and diet can play a part, says Liz Connor
When you're the unsuspecting victim of a headache, the pain can be so intense, it feels as though it's penetrating your brain. Anyone who suffers from regular headaches will tell you that the unpleasant symptoms, while only temporary, can be extremely debilitating, putting a block on your social plans and making work tasks near impossible.
Thankfully, most headaches will go away on their own, and aren't a sign of anything serious. In severe cases, though, they can linger for days, causing vomiting, sensitivity to light and visual problems.
But you don't have to be a slave to pain. By better understanding how your brain works, you can find techniques to nip the torture in the bud.
Here, registered nutritionist Dora Walsh explains the typical types of pain associated with headaches and migraines, and how what you eat and drink can help soothe them.
1. Tension headache
"The most common type of headache is called a tension headache," says Walsh. "It's usually characterised by a dull, pressured pain on both sides of the head and forehead - and you may also feel it in the shoulders and neck."
"It's important to note that if you're suffering with any type of headache, ensure you're drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated and maintain consistent blood sugar levels by eating regular meals. Avoid alcohol, too, as it will make the pain worse."
If you regularly get headaches at work, it might be time to assess both your workload and your computer set up, as Walsh explains that muscle contractions can often be made worse by staring at a screen for too long, poor posture or emotional stress.
2. Head pain that's simply throbbing
A severe throbbing pain in your head is probably a signal you have a migraine coming on.
"Scientists have discovered that hormones, serotonin and oestrogen, may cause inflammation of blood vessels, leading to the pulsing pain," says Walsh. "This link with hormones may also be why some women experience migraines immediately before their period. In fact, migraines affect three times as many women than men."
Walsh explains that while the cause of headaches and migraines are still a bit of a mystery, it's clear that certain foods may trigger them. The types of food that bring on pain can vary completely from person to person though.
"If you suspect it could be due to food, in order to help identify your triggers, try and keep a food diary to record the food and how you feel afterwards so you can spot any patterns around the times when the next migraine strikes."
As well as avoiding your trigger foods, over the counter pain relief or herbal remedies such as Care Feverfew Migraine Relief Tablets (£5.59, 60 tablets; weldricks.co.uk) may also help. A pharmacist can recommend the best option for you.
3. Headaches that cause vision problems
If you're experiencing lines that cross your vision or patches are blurry, then you may be experiencing an aura - a symptom that often precedes the pain of a migraine.
Walsh explains: "Neuroscientists have found that auras are a result of electrical waves in the brain that spread out from a point of electrical stimulation to impact other functions.
"Magnesium deficiency has been linked to headaches and migraines. And studies have shown that magnesium oxide may help to prevent migraines with auras, so it's important to get enough magnesium in your diet. You can try by increasing magnesium-rich foods to your diet, like nuts and seeds, while eggs and milk are also good sources."
4. Headaches and nausea
Research has shown that people who regularly experience gastrointestinal symptoms - such as reflux or diarrhoea - have a higher rate of headaches, and that migraines may actually slow down the digestive system.
"Digestive delay caused by migraines is called 'gastric stasis' and may be a result of increased activity of the nervous system, which can occur when a migraine hits," says Walsh.
"It's the undigested food sitting in the stomach that may be to blame for the nausea you're feeling, which can lead to vomiting. This may also be the reason why so many migraine sufferers lose their appetite."
To help relieve the nausea, Walsh suggests gently sipping water, ginger or peppermint tea, and try nibbling on neutral foods such as dry crackers or toast. It's also crucial to make sure you're getting plenty of rest to help your body recover.
Migraine sufferers that experience severe physical effects should always speak to a pharmacist or book an appointment with their GP, to help manage the symptoms more effectively.