All of us have headaches at some point or the other — some mild, some severe. For many, it vanishes quickly; for others it persists and becomes so unbearable that they need to use medication. From pain balms to a head massage, we try different things to get rid of headaches triggered by various factors.
A new study finds that 52% of the global population is affected by headaches every year. Migraines are one of the most severe forms of headaches — they can cause nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain.
“Headache is defined as a painful sensation in any part of the head. It affects people of all ages, races and socio-economic status and is more common in women. Migraine and tension headaches are examples of primary headache and they constitute nearly 90 per cent of all headaches,” says Dr. Mohan Krishna Narasimha Kumar Jonnalagadda, Senior Neurologist at Yashoda Hospitals.
While the pain can be disabling, with a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life, these headaches are not dangerous. They can be effectively treated with correct clinical diagnosis and do not require special investigation.
“Migraines frequently recur and can occur on a daily basis in the most severe cases (referred to as chronic daily headache). Migraines adversely affect personal, professional, and social life. People with migraines need to take frequent leave from work. They tend to avoid outings, travel, and social gatherings due to the fear of aggravating a migraine attack,” explains Dr Sudhir Kumar, Senior Consultant Neurologist, Apollo Hospitals.
According to WHO, migraines, tension-type headaches and cluster headaches are reported to be the most common disorders of the nervous system. “The majority of patients who suffer from migraine/tension headaches can identify triggers. During the pandemic, students, software employees and other professionals started spending more time on mobiles/laptops. The increase in screen time is associated with lack of physical exercise and contributes to increased incidence of headaches,” says Dr Mohan Krishna.
A new headache occurring in association with another disorder is diagnosed as secondary to that disorder. “They are important to recognize, as they are serious and may be life-threatening. Red flags i.e symptoms suggestive of secondary headaches are; Thunderclap headache (intense, exploding and hyperacute onset), new onset headache in patients above 50 or below 10 years, with history of cancer/HIV, and headaches associated with postural changes,” says Dr Mohan.
l Common symptoms of migraine are pain either on one or both sides of the head, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to bright lights and noise.
l The headache typically lasts for 4-72 hours and is throbbing in nature.
> Lack of sleep
“It has been noted that people need 7-8 hours of sleep on a regular basis to lead a healthy life. However, it is rare these days for people to get adequate amounts of sleep. Lack of sleep is a common trigger for migraine. Natural sleep occurs only during nights as the sleep hormone melatonin is released only during nights. So people working on night shifts are more prone to migraines,” says Dr Sudhir.
There are multiple factors that cause stress. “The commonest are financial problems and a demanding job. There is tough competition at workplaces and many youngsters report the need to work longer and even beyond office hours.
This leaves little family time and no time for relaxation. These factors contribute to an increased incidence of migraine,” says Dr Sudhir.
> Food triggers
Eating out has become the trend, with fast foods being very popular. Several food items can trigger migraine attacks, including cake, cheese, chocolates, Chinese food and too much coffee.
Also, skipping a meal or delay in having breakfast are common triggers for migraines. Some people skip meals to lose weight. This can also trigger migraine attacks or increase their frequency.
> Hormonal imbalance
Migraine is mostly seen in people between 15 and 50 years of age, coinciding with menarche and menopause. Many women also report increased frequency of migraine during their periods. Some women take hormonal pills either as a contraceptive method or to treat menstrual irregularities. Hormonal pills also trigger migraine attacks. Hormonal imbalance has increased in younger women due to stress, eating junk and oily foods, being overweight and also because of polycystic ovary disease (PCOD).
> COVID 19 Pandemic
It has been observed that headache is one of the commonest symptoms of COVID-19 infection. Many of those who get Covid go on to develop migraine. Those with pre-existing migraine report an increase in severity and frequency of headaches.