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Do you suffer frequent headaches?
Kanchan Maslekar
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August 16, 2007

Says Rakhi Mishra, a 32-year-old Bangalore-based software engineer, "Every time I have a deadline, work pressure and a long to-do list, I suffer from gruelling headaches."

Ditto for Ambarish More, a graphic artist who suffers severe bouts -- even after medication and a battery of tests to determine the cause, his pain persists.

With long hours in front of the television or computer, desk jobs, the tussle of managing a home and the office and ever-increasing stress and strain, more and more youngsters are suffering from headaches. Once considered an ailment that mainly afflicts the elderly, the opposite seems true today.

What is a headache?

A headache or cephalgia (the medical term), is pain suffered in the head and sometimes in the upper back and neck.

Usually, a headache does not indicate any serious disorder and can be alleviated by preventive measures, medication and a change in lifestyle. However, it can be very painful, annoying and can throw your schedule off completely.

What causes a headache?

According to Dr Rohini Karpe, a homeopath, headaches can be caused by a change in your daily sleep or food patterns. Stress, tensions, fatigue, migraine, eye strain, sinusitis, cold or dehydration are other common causes.

Explains Dr M M Joshi of Anandi Clinic in Pune, "Typically, a chronic headache results from tension, or muscle contraction, which may be caused by emotional stress, fatigue, menstruation, or environmental stimulation."

Types of headaches

Doctors divide headaches into two classes, primary and secondary. Primary headaches are those that are not caused or associated with any other medical condition. Secondary headaches are caused by disease or medical conditions, informs Dr Karpe.

Migraine headaches

Migraine is characterised by a throbbing headache, usually in half a part of the head. Though causes of migraine differ from person to person, some triggers include travelling in the sun, lack of sleep and food, excess junk food and menstruation. "They're more common in women and tend to be hereditary," says Dr Karpe.

Someone suffering from migraine may also experience a vomiting sensation, loss of appetite, nausea and irritability. "Migraine is a chronic condition of recurrent attacks," adds Dr Joshi.

Tension headache

Tension headaches are of a longstanding nature and last for days. "A feeling of heaviness or tightness in the head, neck, arm and shoulder muscles is the characteristic feature of this type of headache," explains Dr Karpe. "There is generally some element of depression or anxiety, often resulting in sleeplessness and restlessness."

Most people are able to function despite tension headaches. It is important to learn how to relax, however, in order to cope with this kind of headache; stress or anxiety should be avoided and medication taken.

Sinus headache

Sinusitis can cause a headache by clogging the sinus cavities of the head; as a result, the ache is distributed in the area of the sinus cavities.

How to avoid a headache

Yes, the good news is that headaches can be avoided. Dr Joshi provides a few preventive tips:

~ Make sure your home and work place are both well-lit and ventilated.

~ Get enough sleep, or you will lose time meant for work trying to cope with your headache. Make sure not to compromise on at least seven hours of sleep a day.

~ Avoid eyestrain by working in a well-lit environment, maintaining a proper posture and the right distance from your monitor or television screen.

~ Take frequent breaks during work, or even while working at home for long hours.

~ Stick to regular mealtimes -- avoid long intervals between two meals and eating late at night.

~ Learn to manage stress through management techniques -- get into an exercise programme, or try yoga and meditation.

When a headache warrants a visit to the doctor

Says Dr Karpe, "Isolated tension headaches can be cured with over-the-counter pain killers or home remedies. However, if the headache persists, visit your doctor to discuss possible causes and prevention."

If you suffer the following symptoms over a long period of time, it's advisable to get medical advice:

~ Repetitive attacks of  sudden, severe headaches accompanied by nausea and vomiting

~ Persistent and recurring headaches accompanied by memory problems

~ Convulsions

~ Persistent vision disturbances or light flashes

~ Trouble in motor development or control over the arms and legs

Keep in mind that headaches can serve as warning signals of more serious disorders, so in case the pain persists or increases despite medication, it is advisable to consult a specialist and undergo the necessary tests.  Don't ignore such symptoms as 'just another headache'.

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