What is Headache?
There are four types of headache: vascular, muscle contraction
(tension), traction, and inflammatory. The most common type of vascular
headache is migraine. Migraine headaches are usually characterized by severe
pain on one or both sides of the head, an upset stomach, and, at times,
disturbed vision. Women are more likely than men to have migraine
After migraine, the most common type of vascular headache is the
toxic headache produced by fever. Other kinds of vascular headaches include
"cluster” headaches, which cause repeated episodes of intense pain, and
headaches resulting from high blood pressure. Muscle contraction headaches
appear to involve the tightening or tensing of facial and neck muscles.
Traction and inflammatory headaches are symptoms of other disorders, ranging
from stroke to sinus infection. Like other types of pain, headaches can serve
as warning signals of more serious disorders. This is particularly true for
headaches caused by inflammation, including those related to meningitis as well
as those resulting from diseases of the sinuses, spine, neck, ears, and teeth.
Is there any treatment?
When headaches occur three or more times a month, preventive
treatment is usually recommended. Drug therapy, biofeedback training, stress
reduction, and elimination of certain foods from the diet are the most common
methods of preventing and controlling migraine and other vascular headaches.
Regular exercise, such as swimming or vigorous walking, can also reduce the
frequency and severity of migraine headaches. Drug therapy for migraine is
often combined with biofeedback and relaxation training. One of the most
commonly used drugs for the relief of migraine symptoms is sumatriptan. Drugs
used to prevent migraine also include methysergide maleate, which counteracts
blood vessel constriction; propranolol hydrochloride, which also reduces the
frequency and severity of migraine headaches; ergotamine tartrate, a
vasoconstrictor that helps counteract the painful dilation stage of the
headache; amitriptyline, an antidepressant; valproic acid, an anticonvulsant;
and verapamil, a calcium channel blocker.
What is the prognosis?
Not all headaches require medical attention. But some types of
headache are signals of more serious disorders and call for prompt medical care.
These include: sudden, severe headache or sudden headache associated with a
stiff neck; headaches associated with fever, convulsions, or accompanied by
confusion or loss of consciousness; headaches following a blow to the head, or
associated with pain in the eye or ear; persistent headache in a person who was
previously headache free; and recurring headache in children. Migraine
headaches may last a day or more and can strike as often as several times a week
or as rarely as once every few years.
What research is being done?
The National Institute of Neurological
Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) conducts research
relating to headaches at its laboratories
at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and supports additional research
through grants to major medical institutions across the country. NINDS also
supports and conducts studies to improve the diagnosis of headaches and to find
ways to prevent them.
Nutritional and Herbal Therapy for Headache
Since there are many types of headaches (migraines, headaches
caused by tension, hormonal changes, common cold and eye strain), the
nutritional and herbal therapy would be different according to the specific type
of headache you have.
According to the
Tao of Nutrition, for headaches due to the common cold, you
can try the following:
- Make a tea from ginger and green onions, boiling for five
minutes. Drink and cover yourself under many blankets to cause a sweat.
- Make a tea from chrysanthemum flowers and and cassia
- Drink green tea.
- Chinese herbal formula,
Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan,
is very helpful for headaches due to the common cold.
For headaches due to high blood pressure, menstruation,
emotional stress or tension, or migraines, here are some tips:
- Mix lemon juice and 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda in
water and drink.
- Make a tea of Chinese prunes, mint and green tea.
- Make a tea of oyster shells and chrysanthemum flowers,
slowly boiling the shells for 1 1/2 hours, then adding the flowers for the
last 30 minutes.
- Rinse your head with warm water and then gradually
increase the temperature to hot.
- Chinese herbal formula,
Tian Ma Gou Teng Wan, is
excellent for pounding headaches/migraines and headaches due to
- For headaches due to menstruation,
Xiao Yao Wan,
is a popular and effective Chinese herbal formula.
Tao of Nutrition, by Maoshing Ni, Ph.D., C.A., and Cathy McNease,