Headaches are a troubling symptom, because they have a wide range of possible causes — many of which are not fully understood within the medical community — and can be indicative of fairly serious problems. Some headaches are easy to identify; migraines, for example, have several distinct symptoms that set them apart from other headaches. On the other hand, a headache can seem to come out of nowhere, so you might not fully know when to seek medical attention, take over-the-counter medication, or simply sleep it off. If you frequently have headaches or you have a headache that is abnormally severe and sudden, it’s time to seek medical attention. When you are experiencing pain that is more bearable but still a significant source of discomfort, it might be attributable to one of the following, less serious causes.
In the summertime especially, you might think about how much water you’ve been drinking when you develop a headache. Dehydration is often associated with headaches, because the pain-sensitive nerves in the head can activate when the body is deprived of water. Additionally, your blood vessels will become more narrow as the body compensates for lower fluid levels, thereby limiting proper blood flow to the brain.
You’ve had too much wine
Any type of alcohol can leave you with a headache the next day when you are suffering through the aftermath of a hangover. Red wine, however, might give you a headache while you are still drinking due to the presence of tyramine, which is a substance that is found in aged foods and beverages, including red wine. Pairing wine with cheese might only make things worse, since aged cheeses are high in tyramine too. Red wine also poses a problem with polyphenols, which are compounds that can interfere with serotonin metabolism in the brain. Not everyone will feel the same effects from these substances, so you may need to test out your sensitivity when you pick up your next glass of Cabernet or Zin.
You need to watch your heart health
Women tend to experience headaches more frequently than men for many different reasons (hormones being among the most significant), and this is especially true in the case of migraine headaches. If you are a woman and you regularly experience migraines, you should consult a cardiologist as you work with your primary physician or a neurologist to get your migraine symptoms under control. One study out of the Institute of Public Health at Charlite-Universitatsmedizin in Berlin showed that migraines are a marker for a higher risk of heart disease and stroke in female patients. The reason for the correlation is unclear, but the right preventive healthcare routine can be helpful in curbing your added risk.
You’re craving caffeine
For some, caffeine is essential for survival during early work meetings or the afternoon workday slump. If you rely on caffeinated beverages to get through your day, you might forget just how powerful caffeine can be until you stop consuming it. Along with irritability and fatigue, caffeine cessation may lead to significant headaches that disrupt your routine. The cause of withdrawal headaches is likely two-fold. First, caffeine changes the way that blood vessels relax and constrict, and the tiny blood vessels in the brain may be extra sensitive to these changes. Second, the psychological stress of breaking a caffeine addiction might cause a physical reaction that literally goes straight to your head. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t ever break up with your morning coffee or kick the habit of energy drinks. Slowly tapering off caffeine can help you remain comfortable and sane as you find healthier, more sustainable ways to stay energized throughout the day.
Your diet needs adjustments
It’s no secret that what you eat can have a substantial impact on how you feel. In the case of food-related headaches, there is a common food additive that you can blame for your discomfort: Nitrates. Many different types of smoked, cured, and processed meats contain nitrates, which act as a preservative and help to fend off nasty foodborne illnesses like botulism. Unfortunately, nitrates do not sit well with some people, and they might trigger headaches. Keeping a headache diary and detailing what you ate and drank prior to experiencing a headache can help you get to the bottom of what’s triggering your pain.
For more help finding relief from regular headaches, speak with a physician without the long wait of the doctor’s office at MeMD. From prescription medications to lifestyle changes, we can help you choose the right solution to live free from headaches and migraines.