Headache is a common ailment, what causes it?

Anyone who can say that they have never suffered from a headache can consider themselves lucky. One in five Dutch people suffer from a headache at least one day a week. Headaches have actually become something that is ‘normal’. That’s just part of our life. But is it true that headaches are part of everyday life? Is it really ‘normal’ and is there nothing we can do to reduce the frequency of headaches?

Where do headaches come from?

When we have a headache, the blood vessels in our brain are dilated to the extent that the surrounding nerves are stretched. Because the blood vessels ensure that our brains are supplied with oxygen, they are constantly in motion. 99 percent of all headaches are more likely to be tension headaches or migraines than anything serious. Some people suffer from it very often, others less so, but everyone has a headache sometimes.

Different types of headaches

Headaches are divided into four forms:

  • Migraine
  • Tension headache
  • Cluster headache
  • Medication-induced headache



Migraines are much more common in women than in men. It is a throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head. In the worst case, migraines can last several days. People prefer to lie in a dark room, without moving. Light and movement can make the pain worse. A few hours before a migraine attack you may experience fatigue, diarrhea, constipation or mood swings. Sometimes you get extremely cold and even a stiff neck is a possibility. Visual field disorders occur in approximately one third of all people who experience migraine attacks. You may see spots or vibrations in the air. You feel numb and get tingling. Then comes the headache, you may feel nauseous and sensitive to light and movement. Unfortunately, migraine cannot be cured. There are medications against it. If you suffer from migraine attacks, it is advisable to live a regular lifestyle. Eat regularly and adjust your diet, so it is better not to have too much alcohol, citrus fruits, cheese and chocolate. If you regularly have attacks, it is advisable to consult your doctor.

Tension headache

A tension headache is a throbbing pain on both sides of your head, it feels like there is a tight band around your head. Sometimes you feel nauseous and when you exert yourself the pain gets worse. You can get a tension headache due to cold, anxiety, stress, but also due to lack of sleep. The pain may last for a short time, but it may also take days to subside. Above all, try to relax, for example by doing relaxation exercises. Or have your neck and shoulders massaged.

Cluster headache

It is estimated that fewer than one in ten people suffer from cluster headaches. It seems that men suffer from cluster headaches more often than women. This type of excruciating headache occurs in series. People who suffer from cluster headaches often experience one to four headaches, which can last anywhere from fifteen minutes to six hours. Often the terrible pain is concentrated on one side of the head, usually behind an eye. In between, there are headache-free periods that can even last years.

Medication-induced headache

Using too many medicines can increase the risk of headaches. Too many painkillers can make headaches worse. People often do not realize this and take more painkillers for the headache, which only makes the problem worse. It is a mild pain on both sides of your head and you often experience it every day. Occasionally the headache may be accompanied by nausea. When you stop or reduce the medication, the headache may initially become much worse. But after a few days or weeks the headache diminishes or disappears completely.

The causes

Research has shown that the risk of headaches increases by 7.5 percent for every five degrees Celsius the temperature rises. So the warmer it is, the greater the chance of a headache. Certain types of aged cheese can also cause headaches. Mature cheese, blue cheese, brie, feta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese can cause headaches due to the tyramine contained in these cheeses. Tyramine is a certain substance that occurs naturally in many plants and animals. In foodstuffs it is formed by spoilage and by fermentation processes, which are processes in which foodstuffs are converted by means of bacteria or fungi. For example, converting regular white cabbage into sauerkraut. This is done by storing the carbon in a container without oxygen, which causes bacteria to turn the carbon sour. Tyramine is also found in chocolate, certain products prepared with soy, certain aged meats, sauerkraut, red wine and certain liqueurs . Red wine and liquor can make the headache worse because alcohol increases blood flow to the brain. Skipping a meal can cause headaches because blood sugar levels drop too quickly. Smoking can also cause headaches, not only for the smoker but also for the person who smokes. Drinking too much coffee can be a reason to get a headache, but suddenly stopping drinking coffee completely can also cause a headache. The cause of this is the sudden withdrawal of caffeine. Stress, poor posture, anxiety, insomnia and even overuse of medication can also cause headaches.

What can you do yourself?

As soon as you feel a headache coming, it is best to immediately take a painkiller. You may be able to prevent the attack or at least make it less intense. If blood sugar levels are the cause of the headache, eating something may help. Just don’t eat something that contains too much sugar, because that will cause the blood sugar level to rise too quickly, then drop again very quickly, which will only worsen the headache. Letting in some fresh air often helps to reduce the headache. Too little oxygen contributes to the headache. It also often helps to lie down in a dark room when the headache comes on and sleeping for a while can even make the headache disappear completely. A cold or hot compress can also help relieve a headache. Relaxation exercises or a massage can also work wonders for headaches.

Notify doctor

If you regularly suffer from headaches, it is advisable to contact your doctor. It is also important to inform your doctor if the headaches started after an accident. If you have a headache and you also feel ill or you have a headache before breakfast and you even have to vomit, then it is also wise to inform your doctor. If you never or hardly ever have a headache and you suddenly have a severe attack of headache, this is a good reason to contact the doctor urgently. Whatever type of headache you have and even if you are used to having headaches, if all the remedies described above do not help, see your doctor. Headaches are not something to take lightly. It’s not part of a normal existence. There are reasons why headaches occur. Some reasons are more serious than others, but consulting your doctor is advisable in all cases.

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