Headache 101: Advice That Won’t Hurt Your Head


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

The dreaded headache. We all get them from time to time, especially if we are under stress or maybe a little dehydrated. Headaches are so common, we usually write them off as no big deal.

And although not usually life-threatening, headaches can be a major nuisance and prevent us from going about our daily activities.

The Cleveland Clinic reports that headaches are the most common cause of absenteeism from work and school. Migraine sufferers lose more than 157 million work and school days every year because of headache pain.

But what if your headache is a sign of something more serious? Headaches, in fact, can be an emergency medical situation. But you may not know this, because you may be programmed to believe that they are no big deal.

When is a headache more than just a nuisance?

According to one medical and health news service, when the following situations occur, you should consider your headache an emergency:

  • It’s the worst headache you’ve ever had.
  • Your headache came on suddenly and feels explosive.
  • Along with your headache, you have a high fever and nausea.
  • You have slurred speech, vision changes, dizziness, confusion or inability to move your arms or legs on one side of your body.

This tragic story of a woman named Lee Broadway, a mother of four, who died after experiencing the “worst headache” she ever experienced is an example of how serious a headache can be.

At first, Broadway seemed fine. She was enjoying some quality time with her husband while their kids were away. Her husband then had to go to work, leaving her home alone. He called her on his way back from work.

After telling him over the phone she had the worst headache of her life, her husband said, “She lost feeling in her left leg and she fell.”

When he got home, they headed to the emergency room. Turns out, she had a broken blood vessel in her brain. Broadway likely suffered from an aneurysm.

“An aneurysm occurs when an artery’s wall weakens and causes an abnormally large bulge. This bulge can rupture and cause internal bleeding,” according to one source.

An aneurysm can occur anywhere in the body, but one of the most common places is the brain.

“Although the exact cause of an aneurysm is unclear, certain factors contribute to the condition. For example, damaged tissue in the arteries can play a role. The arteries can be harmed by blockages, such as fatty deposits. These deposits can trigger the heart to pump harder than necessary to push blood past the fatty buildup. This stress can damage the arteries because of the increased pressure.”

People who smoke, use cocaine or have high blood pressure are also at higher risk of aneurysms.

Aneurysms can be monitored with medical attention and lifestyle changes, but unfortunately in Broadway’s case she suffered complications and her aneurysm ruptured.

She did have high blood pressure, which she took medication for, but otherwise appeared healthy.

Although what happened in this story is pretty rare, it is clearly important to know when your headache is a sign of something more serious.

Some headaches may be a symptom of the following:

Here are some other things to look out for:

  • Your headache is the FIRST severe one you have ever had, and you are unable to function.
  • Your headache started after a head injury, strenuous exercise and even sex.
  • Your headache is very bad and one of your eyes is bloodshot.
  • You are older than 50 and suddenly experiencing headaches for the first time.
  • You have a headache that progressively gets worse over a 24-hour period.

So now that you know what to look out for, what are some things you can do to prevent the common headache?

  • Stay hydrated. When your body does not get as much water as you need, you become dehydrated and this can cause headaches. Normal activities like urinating, breathing, sweating and crying cause us to lose water. You also lose more water when you are sick, sometimes from vomiting, having a fever or diarrhea. Taking certain medications, like water pills (also called diuretics), may also lead to dehydration. And just simply forgetting to drink enough water may also cause dehydration.  
  • Learn to manage your stress. Stress is the most common cause of tension-type headaches. “In times of emotional stress, certain chemicals are released that provoke the vascular changes that cause a migraine headache. The attacks become more frequent in periods of increased stress,” reports The National Headache Foundation. “Factors related to stress include anxiety, worry, shock, depression, excitement, and mental fatigue. Repressed emotions can also precipitate migraine headaches, and the muscle tension often brought on by stressful situations can add to the severity of the headache. After a stressful period there may be a letdown which can, in itself, trigger a migraine headache. This may be one reason for weekend headaches.”

For stress management tips, read here.

And if you haven’t guessed it already, nutrition may play a lead role in whether you suffer from a headache or not.

Reportedly, headaches may be the result of nutrient deficiencies, like magnesium and various B vitamins.  

There are a variety of delicious and healthy foods that are rich in magnesium. Leafy green vegetables (like spinach), legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains contain magnesium. Foods with fiber, like cherries, are also good sources of magnesium, and many cereals are fortified with this essential mineral. If you have difficulty eating magnesium rich foods, talk to your doctor about obtaining a high quality magnesium supplement. There is also some evidence that magnesium may be absorbed through the skin, so taking a bath with magnesium salts may improve your magnesium levels.

If you are a regular victim of migraines, read our previous blog about migraines and testing for nutritional deficiencies.

To learn more about dietary sources of B vitamins, read here.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.   


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