Headaches result when muscles and blood vessels outside of your skull put pressure on your nerves, sending a "pain message" to your brain.
"Every-day habits that prevent headaches include a healthy, regular sleep schedule, stress management and consistent exercise," said
To get back on track to a happy, healthy life, be proactive.
"Headaches don't have to keep you from the activities you enjoy," said
A Good Night's Sleep
— Changes to your sleep schedule can cause cluster headaches, which occur without warning and are characterized by a sudden, sharp pain that can reach maximum intensity within minutes of onset.
— Your nervous system requires sleep to function properly. A regular schedule of seven to nine hours of sleep every night will keep your body's sleep-wake cycle in order.
— To measure the quality of your sleep, gauge your energy level throughout the day. Are you waking up refreshed? If not, headaches may result and your sleeping habits may be to blame.
— According to the Better Sleep Council, 65 percent of Americans lose sleep because of stress, which itself is a trigger for headaches as well.
— Muscles within the neck, shoulder and scalp tighten and contract as a response to stress. This anxiety-induced reaction often leads to tension headaches.
— Tension headaches, the most common type, cause a mild to moderate pain some people characterize as a tight band wrapped around the head.
— High levels of stress and the resulting headaches can eventually take their toll on your general health. As a professional ice skater, I used breathing exercises to calm my nerves and eliminate stress before competitions. Try this: take slow, deep breaths to help clear your mind, slow your heart rate and rid your body of tension.
— Usually a simple nap or an over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can relieve the pain associated with tension headaches. Be careful not to consume too much pain medication, because overuse can lead to rebound headaches.
— To cope with stress, change how you approach situations that negatively affect your mood. We often can't change such situations, so relief may lie in how you react to the problem itself.
— Problems with stress and sleep can also cause a more debilitating type of headache, migraines, which can last between a few hours and a few days.
— The intense pain of migraines is often accompanied by sensitivity to light, nausea or vomiting, changes in body temperature and confusion. If you begin to experience a migraine, seek a dark, quiet room to rest. A cool compress on the forehead and the back of the neck may also help alleviate pain.
— Migraine sufferers, who often have a family history of migraines, should visit their physician to further explore prevention and treatment options.
When to See Your Doctor
— Don't hesitate to go to the emergency room for headaches that start after a head or neck injury, or cause difficulties with speech. This may be a sign of a more serious condition.
— If headaches occur at least three times a month, or you experience an abrupt, severe headache, pay your doctor a visit. To help your physician diagnose and treat your headaches, keep a journal that notes how long each headache lasts, the severity and description of the pain, the location of the headache and any triggers or effects you notice.
— In addition to lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe medicine and, in order to diagnose, arrange for a blood test and an X-ray, MRI or CT scan.
Another Reason to Get Fit
— To reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches, maintain a regular exercise routine to help relax muscles.
— The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 30 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. If you keep a busy schedule, try breaking the 30 minutes into three 10-minute intervals throughout the day: a quick run in the morning, a short walk during your lunch break and 10 more minutes of activity in the late afternoon. Remember that you're more likely to stick to an exercise regimen that focuses on an activity you enjoy.
— While caffeine can help relieve headaches, too much of the stimulant can cause headaches. If your caffeine intake exceeds 500 mg per day, or approximately four cups of coffee, gradually decrease your consumption.
— Allergies also cause headaches. When air cannot enter the sinuses because of swollen tissue, it causes pressure inside the head. To relieve the pain, use a decongestant to unblock nasal passages and eliminate any bacterial infection that may be present.
Time with your family, your focus at work and your general day-to-day activities are too important to be disrupted by headaches. Adjust your lifestyle to prevent headaches before they strike: sleep well, get plenty of exercise and keep stress at a minimum. If that doesn't work, your physician can help you take steps to relieve your pain.
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