We all get a headache from time to time and they can become more frequent as the weather warms up.
Editor Jane Garton looks at what you need to know about headaches and seeks out some natural, soothing solutions.
More than 40 % of us in the UK are affected by tension headaches at any one time. They are characterised by a steady dull ache that spreads to or from the neck. It can feel as though a band is being pulled tightly around your head or a heavy weight is being pushed down on it. The exact cause is unknown but stress is thought to be a major factor.
Migraine is the name given to recurrent headaches that can last for anything from a few hours to a few days. If you feel sick or light bothers you when you have a headache, or the pain limits your ability to carry out your daily activities, your headaches are probably migraine rather than a headache. You may also experience visual disturbances (aura).
The impact of diet
Lack of food is a common headache trigger say the experts. You need to eat regularly and to keep blood sugar levels stable. Go for slow-release carbohydrates and protein to keep levels stable. Dehydration is another common headache trigger so aim for at least eight glasses of water throughout the day.
Keep a food diary
Writing down what you eat and when can help pinpoint trigger foods. Once you suspect a certain food may be triggering your headaches, eliminate it from your diet for a couple of months to see if your headaches reduce. Cheese, red wine, chocolate and citrus fruit are common culprits.
Manage painkiller use
If you find yourself reaching for a pain killer more than two to three days a week you could start to suffer from what is known as medication overuse headaches. Your body starts to get used to painkillers and a rebound headache develops if you don’t take one within a day or so of the last dose. Painkillers should never be taken to prevent headaches.
When to visit you GP
You should see your GP if you are worried about your headaches. You should also book an appointment if simple treatments are not working, if you develop new symptoms or prolonged headaches or you experience a new severe headache.
Try these tips:
- Stop what you are doing and take time out to relax.
- Headaches often get better on their own but taking a painkiller at the first twinge can often stop one developing.
- Topical painkillers that you apply to your forehead can be effective.
- A breath of fresh air can help to clear your head.
- In the long term look at reducing stress levels, getting plenty of sleep and fitting in regular relaxation time.
- There is some evidence that acupuncture can bring relief and homeopathy, yoga and reflexology can be soothing. Anything that helps to keep you calm and relaxed is beneficial.