I am 45 years old and suffer from regular, almost daily headaches. They became worse and more persistent after my children entered their teens seven years ago. A close friend of mine died of a brain tumor; could I have the same problem?
We cannot give a definite diagnosis without taking a full history and performing a thorough clinical examination and needed tests. So we advise you to see your health-care professional and have a thorough neurological checkup.
You ask specifically if the headaches may be tumor related. This is possible but not very likely as they have been present for seven years and occurred at the same time as the stress and challenges of raising a family increased. If the headaches were caused by a growth or cancer, other symptoms would have shown themselves by now.
There are a number of different kinds of headaches, and your particular pattern probably fits into the type we term “tension headaches.” This is the most common form of headache. It occurs more in women than men and may start as early as the teen years. There does not appear to be a strong genetic component to this particular problem. When these headaches occur more than 15 days in any one month, they are then called chronic daily headaches of the tension type.
♦ Regular exercise produces the body’s own natural painkillers called endorphins. ♦ Avoid sleep deprivation by taking adequate rest in a well-ventilated, dark, quiet environment. ♦ Avoid stimulants, exotic foods and drinks (e.g., alcohol, caffeinated beverages, foods rich in tyramine), and tobacco. ♦ Headaches are not a frequent symptom of uncontrolled blood pressure, and their absence does not imply blood pressure is normal in those suffering from high blood pressure. Know your actual numbers! ♦ Meditation on God’s promises and His gracious faithfulness help keep stressors in perspective.Although the name “tension headache” seems to imply that the actual cause is known, this is not the case. The pain itself is related to an interaction of muscle, blood vessels, and nerve elements resulting in discomfort—which can be severe. Many pills and potions are available that can dull or eradicate the pain. It’s very important to note, however, that the most common cause of aggravation of chronic headaches is the overuse of analgesics and/or anti-inflammatory medications. These are often combined with caffeine. Withdrawal of the pain medication can often, but not in all cases, result in an improvement in the headaches. This does not mean that one should not take pain medicine, but rather that one should take the least amount only as frequently as needed.
Migraine is the next most common type of headache. It also affects women more than men. There seems to be a genetic component in migraine, which has been confirmed in studies of identical twins as well as in the general population. Some studies indicate that migraine occurs more frequently in more intelligent individuals.
Migraine can be of two main types: with or without an aura (about 85 percent of cases are without). The aura is a feeling or symptom that occurs before the actual migraine attack and may include visual disturbances, such as seeing flashing lights or stars. Other nervous system-related symptoms include weakness, dizziness, loss of balance, and the feeling of “pins and needles” either in a limb or on the face. If the migraine affects the blood supply of the portion of the brain involved with balance, it is termed “basilar migraine.”
Triggers for migraine headache vary from person to person. For some it’s a specific food, for others a lack of sleep. Changes in weather and environmental temperature may also precipitate an attack. It’s very important to identify the specific trigger—if it exists—and avoid it or modify lifestyle to minimize the attacks.
The medications prescribed are aimed at preventing or reducing the constriction (spasm) of the blood vessels of the brain and the subsequent dilation, pounding pain, and associated nausea. Newer formulations are absorbed from under the tongue, making it possible to take them even when nauseated. Consult your physician on what is best for you.