Headaches can be so mysterious…one moment you feel totally normal and the next you’re out of commission, head in your hands wondering what brought it on in the first place. For unlucky chronic daily headache sufferers this is an everyday event.
While headaches may seem to come and go at random, in truth, there are a number of distinct causes and habits that can trigger them, including certain foods, daily stressors and bad posture. If you suffer from chronic daily headaches, I encourage you to take control — learn your triggers, unlearn bad habits and routines, and open yourself up to all the pain-free days to come.
WHAT ARE CHRONIC DAILY HEADACHES?
“Chronic daily headaches” is an umbrella term that refers to how often headaches occur and how long they last. By definition, headaches are considered chronic when they occur 15 days or more per month, for longer than three months — in other words: more often than not. They may last for only a few minutes or for hours at a time. Here are a few specific conditions that fall under the umbrella of chronic daily headaches:
- Chronic Migraine: A pulsating, throbbing sensation alongside nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound, mild to severe, may affect one or both sides of the head.
- Chronic Tension-Type Headache: Affects both sides of the head, can be mild to severe, causes pain that feels pressing or tightening, but not pulsating like a migraine.
- Hemicrania Continua: Affects only one side of the head and is daily and continuous, no pain-free periods, moderate pain with spikes of severe pain.
WHAT TRIGGERS THEM?
Cold temperatures, alcohol, too much time at the computer…headaches are directly influenced by so many bad habits. These headache triggers are various, commonplace and can be mild, moderate or severe in terms of pain.
Some risk factors have also been known to increase your likelihood of developing frequent headaches in the first place. These risk factors include anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, obesity, snoring, overuse of caffeine or medication and other chronic pain conditions. Here are the eight most common triggers of chronic daily headaches:
1. You’re stressed.
Stress is the number one reason people have headaches — no doubt about it. Stress triggers a rush of hormones that put your body into a state of tension and aggravation, tightening all your muscles and triggering tension headaches. Dealing with headaches? You’ll want to get your stressors under control.
2. You’re dehydrated.
The first big sign of dehydration is a headache, along with inability to focus and decreased energy levels. To manage this, try getting more water from the foods that you eat! A few great options include watermelon, cucumber, grapefruit and strawberries — yum!
3. You have a hormonal imbalance.
Hormones…the root of it all. Particularly in women, monthly fluctuations of progesterone and estrogen affect everything from how your skin looks to your energy levels. Menstrual headaches are common, but if they last longer than a couple of days you could be dealing with a serious imbalance. Look at making changes to your diet to balance your hormones naturally.
4. You’re anemic.
Low levels of iron limit your red blood cells’ ability to move oxygen around the body. In severe cases, your headaches may become even more frequent and even more painful. Manage your anemia by enjoying foods that are rich in iron. 100 grams of spinach contains more iron than the same amount of red meat!
5. Your circadian rhythm is off.
Consistent lack of sleep can cause tension headaches. Why? Insomnia releases stress hormones (see #1) which bring with them headaches. Similarly, if your body clock is off due to extended travel or a change in timezones, you’ll experience the effects.
6. You’re overdoing the caffeine.
A little bit of caffeine can help a headache, but too much can trigger them instead. Ideally, you should consume caffeinated drinks no more than two days a week — I know, I know. Start by replacing coffee with a healthier alternative like green tea, then wean yourself off it to a more manageable level.
7. You’re taking painkillers too often.
Taking ibuprofen or Tylenol here and there to manage a headache isn’t a problem, but if you have chronic daily headaches using them daily can actually be damaging to your kidneys and liver. Simultaneously, taking painkillers on a regular basis can actually cause headaches — it’s a vicious cycle!
8. High blood pressure.
This one feels too obvious. . .The extra pressure of your blood actually increases pressure in your head as well, causing headaches. If you deal with high blood pressure, look into medication or lifestyle changes that can calm the issue.
HOW CAN I GET RID OF THEM?
First things first, name the triggers. Keep a headache diary (either on your phone or a notepad) to document headaches and what may have caused them. Note when they started, now long they lasted and what you were doing at the time, including diet, exercise, sleep, sexual activity and menstrual patterns.
Once you have a clearer understanding of your potential triggers, try to eliminate or avoid them as much as possible. Is your morning cup of coffee sending you into a spiral later in the day? Start weaning yourself off of it. Do you have a tendency to skip meals, either on accident or purposefully? Balance your diet and eat meals at the same time daily.
Second, manage your physical wellness. Regular physical activity can improve your physical and mental wellbeing and reduce stress and anxiety. As such, walking daily, going for a swim a few times per week, or weightlifting in the gym can make a massive difference in your overall health and your headaches. This is also the time to prioritize your sleep.
Third, reduce stress as much as possible. Stress can easily cause and aggravate headaches, causing a downward spiral. Practice meditation, create space for leisure and spend time with family and friends. This is crucial to your health!
WHEN SHOULD I SEE A DOCTOR?
Occasional headaches are common and usually require no more medical attention than a mild painkiller such as ibuprofen. If your headache pattern changes or your headaches worsen, or you have more than two headaches a week and you find yourself taking painkillers often, consult your doctor.
Seek medical care if your headache is sudden, unexpected and severe, accompanies a fever, stiff neck, seizure, confusion, double vision, numbness or difficulty speaking, or if your condition follows a head injury.