By: Karen Campbell, RN, COHN, Occupational Health Nurse at Central Florida Regional Hospital
Migraine and tension are two of the most common forms of headaches that adults and children may experience. Migraine headaches can be so severe that they can interfere with normal activities.
There are two types of migraines: Migraines occurring with an aura (formerly called classic) and migraines occurring without an aura (formerly called common). Auras commonly occur 15-30 minutes before the onset of the headache and may continue into the headache. They may consist of flashing lights, partial or temporary loss of vision, speech difficulties, weakness in an arm or leg, numbness or tingling in the face and hands, confusion, dizziness, speech disturbance and cognitive dysfunction. These headaches may happen several times a week or once every few years.
It is not known exactly why a person may experience a migraine, but the suspected causes are environmental factors and genetic predisposition. Common triggers for migraines include:
1: Hormonal changes in women: Women with a history of migraines often report headaches immediately before or during their periods
2: Certain foods: Foods that commonly trigger headaches include alcohol, especially beer and red wine, aged cheeses, chocolate, aspartame, caffeine, MSG and processed foods. Skipping meals can also trigger migraines
4: Sensory stimuli: Bright lights, sun glare, unusual smells or strong smells-pleasant or unpleasant, loud noises
5: Changes in wake-sleep patterns: Too much or too little sleep; jet lag
6: Physical factors: Intense physical activity
7: Changes in environment or changes in weather
Treatment for migraines may include medications that can help quiet nerve pathways in the brain, reduce inflammation and bind receptors for a brain chemical known as serotonin. For self-care during a migraine it is recommended to apply a cold compress to the painful areas, lie in a dark, quiet room and try to fall asleep.
Tension headaches refer to a head pain associated with stress and muscle contraction. These headaches may occur only occasionally in response to a stressful event. They may also be chronic with daily pain that can vary in intensity.
The most common causes of tension headaches include stress, anxiety, depression, eyestrain, poor posture, injuries and chemical imbalances in the brain. In addition, being female, having sleep apnea, sleep disturbance and clenching one’s teeth can lead to the development of a tension headache. Symptoms vary from person to person.
Treatment for tension headaches may include pain medications or for self-care it is recommended to rest, put an ice pack on the area of tension, take a warm shower, massage your temples and neck and practice relaxation techniques. In order to help prevent a tension headache, keep a diary of when headaches occur and what you were doing when they started. In addition, avoid stressful situations, exercise regularly, stand/sit up straight and make time for pleasurable activities.
Headaches are often undiagnosed and untreated. If you experience signs of migraines, keep a record of your attacks and how you treated them. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your headaches and decide on a treatment plan.
See your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if you have any of the following symptoms:
· An abrupt, severe headache, like a thunderclap
· Headache with fever, stiff neck, rash, mental confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness, numbness or trouble speaking
· Headache after a head injury, especially if the headache gets worse
· Chronic headache that is worse after coughing, exertion, straining or a sudden movement
· New headache pain if you’re older than 50
For more information about headaches or for a physician referral, call Central Florida Regional Hospital’s Consult-A-Nurse at 1-800-445-3392.