Understanding headaches

Understanding headaches
By Dr. David Ryan

The true cause of headaches is often overlooked by many physicians. Understanding the headache” triggers” will lead to the correct diagnosis and treatment. Until the last survey performed by the Center for Disease Control in 2009, headaches were the leading diagnosis.

Headaches are often classified based on their presentation of symptoms. Migraine, non-migraine, vascular, cluster, sinus, and frankly the list can go on for many pages. Migraines are classified based on their presentation of either having a clear neurological symptom or they are void of one. Many migraines can last for days or even years. What is often lost in all of this classification is what triggered them in the first place.

The point that everyone misses in medicine is related to the true causes of disease. Doctors love to “have the correct diagnosis.” Many physicians will strive to put the correct name on a condition and quickly prescribe medication to suppress some symptoms, but then lose sight of the etiology (cause).

The most common cause of all headaches is associated with diet. You have likely heard of a hypoglycemic headache, caused by low blood sugar. The brain is very picky and will only use glucose (free-blood sugar) as energy. If you are dieting, or running low on energy, then the body under stress will react and the hungry glial (pronounced glee-al) cells in the brain release chemicals to trigger a chain reaction that causes head pain.

Diet can also trigger headaches based on what you do eat. Many times an allergy test will show negative results for any particular food, but it is very common to have a powerful hypersensitivity to any substance. Nuts are the most common, but soda, caffine, diary, citrus and wheat products are very typical triggers. Your blood type may have a critical role in determining those factors. Other factors can go all the way back to breastfeeding, but more research is pending.

It sounds too simple, but restriction of specific food or beverage, is commonly the first step for many of the top headache clinics in the world. People literally will crave the very substance they are hypersensitive to. A simple step is to keep a headache journal and also a diet journal. Correlating the foods you eat to the actual onsets of headaches is the fundamental key in controlling the “triggers” of your headaches.

Many medications also can result in headaches and their combination with specific food or beverages results in the same chemical chain reaction. Drugs and supplements often result in sinus reactions and a change in the body’s sewer system (sinuses) causing intense blockage and pain.

Obviously sinus headaches can be from an allergy and/or hypersensitivity. Sinus conditions also occur due to drastic changes in the barometric pressure, humidity, temperature and alterations of sun light.

Many people have a genetic tolerance for salt content in the air. If your ancestors or you lived in an area like Miami, that has a naturally high salt content, and then you moved to Ohio, your sinuses will likely need more salt than available in the buckeye air.

Several sinus conditions are helped simply with using a saline solution. Most pharmacy stores carry some simple salt solution that is free of medications.

To improve the use of any salt solution, you need to lie on your back with your head fully extended. Breathe through your mouth, while placing a few drops of salt solution into your nasal cavities. Stay in that position for a minute or two. Yes, it can burn, but the properties of the salt will break up the mucus.

Vascular headaches involve headaches that are associated with blood vessel changes. This can be from many sources and are often associated with stress, rapid changes in temperature or can be triggered by medications or even food and perfumes or other chemicals.

Exertion headaches are very common in sports and can be from head contact (concussion) or simply straining with a weight and holding your breath. In either case, blood is often moved out of a normal flow pattern and requires significant testing.

Not attempting to lift heavy weights without proper warm-up and conditioning and ensuring you are exhaling while under strain will often prevent vascular compromise. These headaches can stop a workout very quickly and are often initiated by a hypoglycemic headache.

Concussion headaches are very serious and unfortunately there is little training for physicians to understand them. Quality school programs offer pre-season testing using the IMPACT format. Many times concussions are not taken seriously and devastating results occur from a second impact.

Current research has shown that chiropractic/osteopathic manipulation and fish oil supplements offer a great deal of relief for concussions. Most headaches should show some improvement in frequency, intensity and duration in less than two weeks. If not, look for a second opinion from a similar or different type of physician.

Yours in Health!

Dr. David Ryan

Columbus Chiropractic Center Director