Do you know that our brain is incapable of feeling pain? This is because there are no pain-detecting structures (called pain receptors) within the brain. These pain receptors can only be found from the coverings around the brain and bones as well as the scalp.
Hence, how and where do headaches come from? And are they any different to migraines? Experts seem to think that the surrounding tissues, brain chemicals, blood vessels and nerves are producing signals which result in a headache. Environmental factors such as loud noises may also be triggers.
During a headache, an unpleasant pain may arise from the head or upper neck area. The perceived pain varies among people, ranging from a dull ache to an intense, sharp, throbbing pain –
Some common types of headache are:
- Tension-type headache: A common headache that is described as a feeling of constant pressure and tightness, as if a tight rubber band was placed around the forehead. Common causes include stress, worry, sleep deprivation, or tiredness. These headaches are usually treated with mild to medium strength painkillers.
- Chronic daily headache: A type of headache that occurs for over 15 days in a month and may arise from tension, muscle contraction or over-dosage of painkillers.
- Cluster headache: A rare form of headache that is often mistaken for a migraine or sinus headache. Some common symptoms are extreme head pain which lasts for 15 to 180 minutes. These attacks may occur for up to 8 times per day.
The above are just a brief rundown of the various kinds of headaches out there. Don’t forget that headaches can also be due to excessive drug or alcohol use, strained eyes, poor vision, infections, teeth disorders, stroke and head injury.
“Or is it a migraine…?”
Migraine, on the other hand, is more than just a headache. A migraine attack may last from 4 to 72 hours and it can be disabling. It usually affects one side of the body and may be followed by symptoms such as nausea and increased sensitivity to light and noise.
There are two types of migraine:
- Migraine with aura: Warning symptoms such as flashing lights or weakness from one side of the body before the intense pain sets in.
- Migraine without aura: Started off as symptoms of anxiety, depression or parched throat that lasts for hours prior to migraine.
We still do not know what happens in our head during a migraine, but we do know that the common factors include:
- Hormonal changes
- Anger, shock and other emotional stress
- Change in diet such as having infrequent meals
- Alcohol, drugs or additives consumption
- Environmental stress such as bright lights or loud noises
- Strained eyes
- High blood pressure
So, how’s the head?
Knowing the differences between a mere headache and a migraine is essential when it comes to distinguishing between the two. If you experience frequent pain in the head, you can keep a ‘headache diary’ to better assist the doctor when it comes to diagnosing such pain. Include the following in your diary:
- The day and time (if possible) it started.
- The duration of the headache (e.g. Does it lasts for a while or dissipates almost as quick?).
- The frequency of its occurrence.
- The location or area of the pain.
- The treatment used and if it worked.
You may also record in your diary if the headache you have seems to be caused by medication, a particular event, or at certain times of the day.
Substance abuse and incorrect use of medication can contribute to pounding in the head. For these people, keeping a ‘headache diary’ will be especially useful as it can help the doctor determine what is happening to them.
BrainFacts. Available at www.brainfacts.org
Healthline. Available at www.healthline.co
MedicineNet. Available at www.medicinemnet.com
NHS choices. Available at www.nhs.uk