If you have headaches often, you’re not alone. Millions of people suffer from them. For most of us, they’re not serious and popping some ibuprofen and turning in early is enough to cure them. But more severe or persistent headaches can be highly debilitating. Our guide will help you work out what might be causing yours--and how you can stop them.
You’re not drinking enough
The general advice is to aim for at least six 8-ounce glasses of fluid daily, including tea, coffee, juice, and other drinks. But if you find yourself drinking less than this, you could suffer from mild dehydration – and that may lead to headaches.
The fix: Fill those six glasses with plain H2O. Scientists at the University of Maastricht, Netherlands, found that when women drank this amount of water every day, they experienced less frequent and less intense headaches. Set an alarm six times a day to remind you to drink up, or download the Waterlogged app (iOS and Android, free), which logs your H2O intake and prompts you to drink.
You’re taking too many painkillers
If you take painkillers for your headaches more than twice a week, your body can get used to them, actually triggering headaches as the effects wear off. “Between five and ten percent of people have headaches for this reason,” says Dr. Fayyaz Ahmed, a neurologist at Hull Royal Infirmary in England.
The fix: Stop taking pain meds. “You’ll feel worse for about a week to ten days, but much better once the painkillers are out of your system,” says Dr. Ahmed. After that, you should try to limit aspirin or ibuprofen to once or twice a week and don’t take them on consecutive days. The exception to this is if you’ve been taking codeine-based painkillers regularly for a year or more. It can be dangerous to suddenly stop, so talk to your doctor about weaning yourself off gradually.
You’re consuming too much caffeine
If you have frequent headaches, crave caffeine and immediately perk up after you down a latte, you may be over-doing your coffee habit. Other signs to watch out for include insomnia and restless legs. “Caffeine is known to have pain-relieving qualities, hence the old wives’ tale about having a strong black coffee to relieve migraine,” says Dr. Nick Silver, a neurologist at the Walton Centre in Liverpool, England. “This is also the reason caffeine is added to many over-the-counter painkillers. It helps for a while but once it wears off it can trigger rebound headaches.”
The fix: You need to detox from caffeine, and stay off it. Be aware you’re likely to get headaches and may even feel sick for the first week, but after that you should start to feel much better--and have more energy, too. “Avoid tea, coffee, green tea, and chocolate,” says Dr. Silver. “White chocolate is fine as it doesn’t contain caffeine. You can also drink decaffeinated tea and coffee, but try to limit them as they contain some caffeine as well.” Better still, switch to herbal teas.
Going cold turkey is a struggle, so it may only be worthwhile if you suffer from really severe headaches or migraines. “But try to drink it in moderation,” says Dr. Ahmed. Stick to two or three cups of tea or coffee daily.
Your blood sugar seesaws
If you skip meals often, or you eat a lot of refined carbs (think white bread, pasta, and white rice), then low blood sugar could be triggering your headaches and migraines, although doctors don’t fully understand the connection.
The fix: "You need to eat regularly so you have a constant flow of energy,” says Dr. Ahmed. Eat smaller meals and snacks rather than consuming two or three big meals. Aim for combinations of protein with unrefined carbs--such as an apple with a handful of nuts, oatmeal with cottage cheese, or a chicken stir-fry with brown rice.You should also avoid high-carb meals as this can lead to a big surge in energy, followed by a slump--and a headache.
Your roller-coaster hormones
The changing levels of estrogen and progesterone throughout your menstrual cycle can bring on headaches--and one of the chief reasons women are twice as likely as men to suffer from migraines. Expect your headaches to get worse as you go through perimenopause, as your hormone levels will fluctuate even more. On the plus side, once you’ve been through the menopause, you're more likely suffer fewer headaches.
The fix: See your doctor if you have migraines and they’re getting worse. “Most women will suffer much less after the menopause but a small number are still affected and hormone replacement therapy can help,” says Dr. Ahmed.
Watch for these red flags
Headaches can be a sign of something more serious, though that's usually rare. Always see your doctor if:
*You’ve suddenly started getting headaches when you haven’t suffered any before.
*Your headaches suddenly get worse.
*Headaches feel worse when you lie down and better when you stand.
*You frequently feel queasy or vomit at night.
via Yours UK