Tackle pain head on

Almost all of us will have to contend with a headache at least once in our life, but those who endure them regularly need not suffer in silence. Tackle your head pain, head on!
Words: Andrew Turner

tackle pain head on

A massive 84 percent of Australians over the age of 18 have had a headache treated at least once in the previous 12 months, according to Gerald Edmunds, secretary general of the Brain Foundation, which runs Headache Australia.

There are around 200 types of headaches – all derived from a variety of causes – and they are divided into two broad categories: primary and secondary.

The primary category includes migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches, according to the International Classification of Headache Disorders, published by the International Headache Society.

The secondary group comprises headaches that are side effects of another condition, trauma or disorder. Overuse of medication, excess alcohol intake, head and spinal injuries, meningitis, sinus infection, brain tumour and a variety of eye diseases are among the factors that can trigger a secondary-type headache. Treating a secondary headache involves treating the underlying disorder.

In the primary category, tension headaches are the most common – around seven million Australians can expect to experience a tension-type headache at some point in their life, according to Headache Australia. Stress, anxiety and poor posture are among the causes, and the symptoms include a mild to moderate, dull, persistent pain on both sides of the head and, in some cases, a sudden jabbing pain in the head. Depending on the symptoms and triggers, rest, medication, relaxation techniques or psychotherapy are the main treatment options available.

Headache or migraine?

Tension headaches can co-exist with migraines, says Edmunds. They affect between 12 and 15 percent of Australians and, as hormones are thought to play a significant role, about twice as many women as men.

The International Headache Society classifies a headache as a migraine when at least one of the symptoms includes nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or sensitivity to noise, and the associated pain is one-sided, throbbing, moderate to severe or aggravated by movement.

Seeking treatment

Over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin, can be effective in treating infrequent, less severe migraines, while preventative medication can be taken daily – irrespective of whether a headache is present – to reduce the incidence of severe or frequent headaches. However, if a need to take over-the-counter medications becomes regular, medical advice must be sought because of the potential for gastrointestinal damage in the long term.

As headaches are a very individual condition, Headache Australia stresses the importance of sufferers managing the problem by identifying and, where possible, avoiding the factors that bring on a headache. Edmunds recommends recurring headache sufferers work closely with their GP to establish an accurate diagnosis of their type of headache. 

Also important, Edmunds insists, is working with a doctor to devise a regime that involves complementary approaches, rather than just medication. “Adopting a diet akin to the Heart Foundation diet for a healthy body and healthy heart, as well as high oxidant foods that are beneficial for brain function and help the synapses work better, are an essential part of that,” he says.



For more information, visit headacheaustralia.org.au

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.