July 26, 2006
When a patient comes in complaining of frequent headaches, it is very important to discover the cause. A headache is a "referred pain." This means that unlike the usual injury or trauma pain, it is more a message that something is not right in the head region (much the same as a radiating pain down the left arm during a heart attack). Here are some of the more common causes:
Migraines: Migraine headaches usually do not have any serious underlying causes, although they can sometimes be debilitating. They are caused by an engorgement of blood vessels around the brain, causing pressure. It is quite common for a patient to see flashes of light for several minutes, as well as spots that interfere with sight. These usually go away within a few minutes, followed by headaches and sometimes nausea and disorientation.
Stress related headaches usually are caused by muscle tension in the neck and shoulders and are most often localized in the back of the head. I generally recommend Aruba or Cancun, or at least a trustworthy babysitter!
Vision related headaches usually worsen as the day wears on; rarely does one awaken with them. They are resistant to relief from aspirin and other headache remedies and usually lessen when you close your eyes for a while. They can be caused by eye muscle imbalance, the natural, age-related loss of focusing ability or simply the need for a new prescription in your eyeglasses. In some cases, I will ask a person to wear their prescription full time to rule out vision as a possible cause. Acute glaucoma can also cause severe headaches originating in pain within the eyes.
Other causes are allergy and sinus, high blood pressure, diabetes, autoimmune disorder, aneurysms and emboli and tumors. As you can see by these latter possibilities, it is extremely important to seek help from your eye and/or medical doctors to determine the source of the headaches.