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10 Things your headaches can tell you about your health

Having a headache is a pain — literally and figuratively. Sometimes, they can be harmless, fleeting, and disappear without a trace. Other times, headaches may creep up and leave your noggin pulsing on the reg. And while chronic headaches can be innocent, they can also signify a deeper health issue is at play.

Experts don’t completely understand what’s happening in our skulls when a headache hits, but the most likely explanation is that something causes the blood vessels to swell, subsequently stretching the nerves around them and firing off pain signals. There are three primary types of headaches: migraines, tension, and cluster, Susan Hutchinson, M.D., director of Orange County Migraine & Headache Center, tells us. If you’re experiencing headaches, chances are they’re either tension or migraines. Cluster headaches — which occur usually on one side of the head, cause one eye to tear, and leave you feeling extremely agitated — are not very common and seem to run in families, Hutchinson says. While experts believe migraines are primarily genetic, anyone can get a tension headache. “Unlike migraines, which we think are genetically predisposed, tension headaches are pretty universal,” Hutchinson says. And they can be caused by everything from dehydration and workplace stress to undiagnosed diabetes or an autoimmune disease. A tension headache feels tight, like your head is in a vice, can occur on both sides, and commonly hits later in the day as tension builds. “It’s a tight, oppressing feeling,” Hutchinson explains.

Chronic headaches — whether tension or migraine — can be caused by a slew of health problems, ranging from totally minor to pretty major. Here are 10 things your headaches could reveal about your health.

1 You’re stressed

If you’re suffering from headaches, stop and think about what’s going on in your life. How stressed are you? And are you just pushing your stress under the rug instead of dealing with it? “ Unresolved stress can really contribute to headache,” Hutchinson adds.

2 You’re dehydrated

“With any kind of headache, a person needs to look at their health habits,” Hutchinson says. One important thing to look at is water intake, as dehydration can cause headaches. The exact connection is unknown, but experts believe it has to do with the way blood volume drops when you’re not getting enough water. Lower blood volume means less oxygen is getting to the brain.

3 You’re anaemic

“More severe anaemia can cause headache,” Hutchinson says. Luckily, if you suffer from iron-deficiency anaemia, it’s reversible by upping iron intake.

4 You have a chronic disease

Headache is a common side effect of many chronic health conditions like fibromyalgia, lupus, and  diabetes. If you have chronic headaches, it’s always worth talking to your doctor to figure out if an underlying condition could be causing them.

5 Your estrogen levels dropped

Thanks to the drop in estrogen right before menstruation, many women experience PMS-related headaches. In fact, menstruation is one of the biggest migraine triggers for women. But it’s not the only time a change in estrogen levels can cause a headache — both perimenopause and postpartum, periods marked by a significant drop in estrogen, often come with headaches. “Any time of hormonal change is a vulnerable time for headaches,” Hutchinson says.

6 You have a sinus problem

Sinus headaches are not that common, Hutchinson says. “Most sinus headaches are just migraines with sinus symptoms,” she says. If you have recurrent headaches in your sinus or facial area, chances are it’s a migraine. In fact, studies have shown that approximately 90 percent of people who see a doctor for sinus headaches are found to actually have migraines, according to the Mayo Clinic. But if your headache is paired with fever, phlegm, or any other indication you might be sick, an underlying sinus infection may be to blame. Good news: The headache should go away after taking antibiotics to knock out the infection.

7 Your body clock is off

Ever wake up for a super early flight and notice a nagging pain in your head? Disrupting your body’s schedule can trigger headaches, Hutchinson says. Getting up at earlier (or later) than usual can throw off your circadian rhythm. “Travel in general is a trigger,” she adds. The stress of travelling, change in barometric pressure, change in time zones, and just being at an airport can all spark a headache.

8 You have a brain tumour

Googling your headache symptoms may result in a self-diagnosis of brain tumour. Rest assured: They’re rare, so chances are you don’t have one. But it’s certainly a possibility, and something you don’t want to miss, Hutchinson says. “If a patient’s had a regular headache pattern [for months] and it hasn’t changed, it’s usually not a red flag,” Hutchinson says. If headaches are a recently new thing for you, are the most severe you’ve ever experienced, or are changing or worsening over time, these are signs your doctor may order a brain scan. If you’re ever worried about what’s causing your headaches, it’s worth discussing with your doctor.

9 You drink too much caffeine

Caffeine causes vasoconstriction in your blood vessels, meaning they get a little narrower. If you drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks every day, your body gets used to it, Hutchinson explains. So when you skip it one day, your blood vessels don’t become constricted and can make your head hurt. It becomes a vicious cycle, slugging back a mug to find relief, and just further deepening your need for the drug. “It’s unrealistic to tell all headache patients to avoid caffeine,” Hutchinson says. She recommends moderation — a maximum of two caffeinated drinks in one day — to avoid that withdrawal headache when you go without.

10 You’re taking too many headache meds

Headache treatments can potentially backfire. “Sometimes, the thing you’re taking for a headache starts working against you,” Hutchinson says. Overdoing it on painkillers can actually make the pain worse — research suggests popping these pills too frequently can alter the brain’s ability to regulate pain — and the caffeine in Excedrin can cause withdrawal headaches, compounding the effects. Overuse of any pain medication to treat headaches can cause what’s called a rebound headache. If you’ve been taking a lot of OTC medications, try stopping for a day or drastically limiting your intake. “If you’re able to then have a day without a headache and don’t need to take anything, then can say you’re out of the rebound,” says Hutchinson.

Taken from Self. Click here to read the original.

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