Most people suffer from headaches from time to time, and it's natural to assume that a headache signals something wrong with your brain. After all, your skull is the home of this most important of organs. But most headaches are actually caused by muscle tension radiating up to your head, not problems with your brain or skull. If you suffer from headaches, you don't necessarily need to panic. Here's how to tell if your headaches are cause for concern.
When to Call the Doctor
The majority of headaches are caused by minor health issues, not serious health crises, so even if your headache symptoms suggest you need to talk to a doctor, you don't need to panic. Some signs it's time to talk to your physician include:
- You are confused or dizzy.
- Your headache provokes nausea or vomiting.
- You've recently suffered a head injury or a blow to the head.
- The headache gets worse when you bend over or jump up and down.
- The headache is concentrated in a single spot, not radiating throughout your head.
- Home treatment does not work, or makes your symptoms worse.
Signs It's Probably Nothing
No matter how painful a headache is, most headaches are caused by various muscle issues. Some signs that your headache is no cause for concern include:
- Changes in the pattern of the headache when you press on muscles in your neck, shoulders, back, or head.
- Head pain that radiates up from a muscle, or from another area on your head; for instance, a jaw injury might radiate to the top or side of your head.
- Your headaches don't change over time, and you get them in predictable circumstances or according to a regular schedule.
- Your headaches are no more severe than they used to be.
- Your headaches get better with massages or other home treatment.
- Certain foods seem to exacerbate your head pain.
Home Treatment for Headaches
If your headache isn't severe, your doctor has given you a clean bill of health, or you have reason to believe the pain is muscular, you can easily treat your headache at home. Some highly effective steps include:
- Applying alternating hot and cold packs to the muscle from which the headache radiates. If you're not sure of the source of the problem, your neck is a good starting point.
- Keeping a room quiet and cool.
- Steering clear of foods that make you feel nauseated.
- Drinking a cup of coffee or other caffeinated drink; caffeine increases blood flow to the head.
- Trying gentle neck and back stretches, such as the yogic Child Pose or Downward Dog.
- Drinking plenty of water; some headaches are triggered by dehydration.
- Eating a healthy meal rich in protein, veggies, fruits, and whole grains. Hunger and malnutrition sometimes trigger headaches.