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Chronic headaches can interrupt life at every step, causing you to miss work, school and even needed sleep. Often, the cause behind a headache is not serious. Sometimes, a change in lifestyle and the methods you take to treat that throbbing pain can make all the difference in the world.

THE FACTS

1. Statistically speaking, headaches are more common in women. Due to fluctuating hormone levels between puberty and menopause, women are three times more likely to suffer the pain of a headache and twice as likely to develop chronic migraines. Keeping a Headache Diary will help you to pinpoint when and why you're suffering pain.

2. The number one cause of headaches is stress. Stress causes tense muscles, which further inhibit the flow of blood to the brain. Clenching one's teeth, muscle strain, lack of sleep, too much nicotine and eyestrain are also common headache triggers. Relieving stress or finding an outlet for it (through exercise, therapy or breathing exercises) can minimize the severity and frequency of headache pain.

A WORD OF CAUTION Though most headaches are not serious, if you're experiencing chronic head pain, a trip to the doctor may be in order. There are many diseases that manifest themselves through a common headache that should not be ignored.

A severe headache that worsens when bending forward warrants immediate emergency medical treatment.

TYPES OF HEADACHES
One head pain is not the same as another. Everyone has different triggers and points of sensitivity. Your first step in relieving chronic head pain is to first figure out which type of headache you are suffering from and then, to adopt your plan of action accordingly. Following, is a list of the most common types of headaches and most successful methods of treatment.

CLUSTER HEADACHE and its SYMPTOMS
A severe headache that typically causes pain on one side of the head or behind one eye is known as a cluster headache. Cluster headaches generally recur at the same time each day for several days or weeks. Unlike most other types of headaches, 90-percent of cluster headaches are experienced by men. Other signs and symptoms of cluster headaches are:

Sudden onset of pain, most often at night when sleeping. Headache reaches its peak within 15-minutes, and lasts up to 2 hours. Severe piercing or boring pain. Teary eyes. Swollen or droopy eyelids. Nausea. Perspiration.

TREATMENT

General Measures

1. During cluster periods, avoid bright lights or glare, alcohol consumption and excessive stress.

2. Avoid smoking during a headache as tobacco often makes clusters unresponsive to drug therapy.

MEDICATION

1. Taking aspirin at the onset of a cluster headache will greatly diminish the length and severity of your pain. Don't wait until the pain is unbearable to begin treatment.

2. Caffeine containing medications used in conjunction with OTC pain relievers are the most effective means of treatment. (As an alternative, drinking a cup of Instant Coffee (not brewed) with pain medications will speed treatment, as well.)

TENSION HEADACHE Tension headaches are the most common type of head pain and are usually brought on by excessive stress, lack of sleep or overindulgence.

SYMPTOMS Dull, aching feeling on both sides of the head. Tight muscles in the neck or on the scalp. Fatigue and weakness. If severe, nausea, light and sound sensitivity may also be present.

TREATMENT

General Measures

1. If possible, take a break from what you are doing and allow your body to relax.

2. Massage your shoulders, neck, jaw and scalp to relieve tense muscles.

3. Take a hot bath or long shower.

4. Lie down. Placing a warm or cold cloth (whichever feels better) over your forehead will help ease the pain.

MEDICATION

1. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and aspirin are most effective medications to treat the symptoms and pain of tension headaches.

2. Products that relax your muscles work well in conjunction with a pain reliever. Rubs, heat triggering lotions, gels and heating pads all work well.

MIGRAINE Experienced mostly by women, migraines can be incapacitating. Chronic migraines warrant a trip to the doctor when conventional treatments don't measure up.

SYMPTOMS An aura that precedes pain that may affect vision, hearing or smell. Many women complain of tunnel vision shortly before a migraine attack. The most common symptom is an inability to see clearly, followed by bright spots and zigzag patterns. Dull, boring pain in the temple that spreads to one side of the head. Nausea and vomiting. Severe pain that may spread to the neck or shoulder area.

TREATMENT

General Measures

1. Begin treatment at the first sign of a migraine.

2. Apply a cold cloth or ice pack to your head.

3. Lie down in a quiet, dark room, supporting your head with pillows.

4. Minimize noise, light and odors.

MEDICATION

1. Headache medicines containing caffeine work well when taken at the first sign of a migraine.

2. Combination drugs, such as mixing acetaminophen (Tylenol) with aspirin therapy work fastest in relieving pain. (There are many OTC medications now available that treat migraine pain. Read and follow label instructions.)

3. Antihistamines will expand the blood vessels, helping to relieve the pressure of a migraine.

4. Antiemetics will decrease feelings of nausea. (Dramamine and Bonine are the most widely used.)

Migraine pain sometimes requires a more aggressive form of therapy. If you find that OTC products are not working or migraines are causing you to miss large amounts of work, school or playtime, a visit to your doctor may provide you with answers, a more effective treatment and a sense of relief.

ALTERNATIVE MEDICATIONS Herbal products and nutrient therapy often work well when treating chronic head pain. Though some of the treatments seem a bit more than unconventional, during the pain of a headache, you may be willing to try anything that works. Always check with your doctor before trying the alternate options.

Alternatives

1. Low levels of potassium in the body can often trigger a headache. Try munching on a banana at the first sign of pain.

2. American Indian legend has it that if you hold a banana peel to your forehead, you will relieve headache pain, as well. The same legend advises doing the same with pieces of cut potatoes.

3. Tying a cool towel around your head works for some.

4. Peppermint, Catnip, Capsicum (Red Pepper) and Ginger are all recommended herbal therapies.

5. Deep breathing exercises can sometimes supply your constricted head vessels with enough oxygen to effectively battle the pain.