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Headaches are a very common complaint with ten million people in the UK suffering from them regularly. The main types of headache are migraine, tension type headaches, cluster headaches and rebound or medication induced headaches and hormonal headaches.

Migraine affects 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men. It is on one side of the face, throbbing and usually moderate to severe. They can last from a few hours to a few days.  It is worsened by activity and maybe affected by light and sound. There may be nausea and vomiting. 15-20% of sufferers get an aura such as flashing lights before the migraine starts. It is thought to be caused by pain producing chemicals affecting nerves and blood vessels in the head. They may be triggered by changes in the weather, food sensitivities, stress, irregular sleeping patterns, caffeine and skipping meals.

Tension type headaches are the most common type of headaches. They usually feel like a tight band around the head and are common in the afternoon. They may be caused by stress, posture and dehydration. They may be accompanied by restriction in the neck movements and tightness and tenderness of neck muscles. The pain is concentrated in the neck and base of the skull but may refer to the forehead, temples, the top of the head and around the eyes and ears.

Cluster headaches affect 1-2 people per thousand of the population. They are more common in men than women. They cause severe, debilitating pain in one side of the head usually around the eye. The eye may be watery and may have a runny nose. The painful episode usually lasts for about 30 minutes to 2 hours and may occur 3 times a day over a period of weeks and then disappear for a few months. The patient can feel very agitated and want to pace around the room. They can often want to bang their head against the wall to try to get some relief. It can bring on suicidal feelings due to the severity of the pain. The headache may be triggered by alcohol and smoking.

Non-medicinal forms of treatment

Migraine can be helped by establishing a good sleeping pattern and eating regular meals. It may help to avoid tyramine rich foods such as aged cheeses, cured meats and some beers. There may be other food triggers. Caffeine may cause a migraine but so may withdrawal from caffeine in which case a small amount of caffeine may help. It may help to manage stress levels. A cold compress where the pain can ease it. Lying in a darkened room usually helps during a migraine.  Osteopathy may help by releasing muscle tension and releasing joint restrictions.

Tension headaches may be helped by correcting postural muscle imbalances through ergonomic advice and osteopathic treatment. Trigger point therapy and self-stretching and strengthening exercise can be useful.

Cluster headaches may be helped by giving up smoking and alcohol as well as Oxygen therapy can be useful.

Headaches may be caused by the very medications given to treat them or when coming off certain medications. Other causes can include dehydration, alcohol, drugs, hormonal such as menopausal or period related, colds or flu, jaw pain, sinusitis, carbon monoxide and sleep apnea.

Unfortunately headaches can be a symptom of serious illness such as stroke, meningitis and brain tumour. Get help immediately if;

It occurs suddenly and is very severe

Gets worse over time

After head injury

Is triggered by coughing, laughing, changes in posture and physical exertion.

There is weakness, slurred speech, confusion, memory loss and drowsiness

There is a high temperature, stiff neck, rash, jaw pain, visual loss, sore scalp, severe pain and redness in one eye.