Nearly everyone suffers from headaches from time to time, most often brought on by stress and muscle tension. However, some women are prone to chronic headaches, which can interfere with day-to-day life. A 2007 study published by the American Academy of Neurology found that women suffering from chronic headaches are more susceptible to depression. Chronic headaches are not all created equal, so if persistent headaches are a serious problem for you, consult with your health provider about treatment.
Culprit Number One: The Tension Headache
The most common type of chronic headaches suffered by women is tension headaches, which are brought on by muscle contractions in the shoulders, neck, scalp and jaw and may feel like a tight band is wrapped around your head.
Tension headaches are often related to stress, anxiety, depression, overwork, not wearing eyeglasses when you should (or wearing the wrong prescription), poor posture or more serious alignment issues or sleep deprivation. You can also get a tension headache from grinding your teeth, sleeping in an uncomfortable position, or holding your head in one place for too long (like sitting in front of a computer!).
These chronic headaches usually respond well to medication. You can help prevent tension headaches by modifying your lifestyle and certain activities - for example, if the headache is linked to eyestrain, properly fitted eyeglasses should take care of the problem.
Migraine Headaches: An Intense & Severe Headache
Migraine is a medical condition that causes severe and intense headaches, characterized by throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. Migraine can also cause nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to sound and light.
These chronic headaches can be quite debilitating and strike women more then men, most commonly women between 20-45. Migraine headaches come on either with or without an “aura,” which are warning symptoms that precede a migraine. Aura symptoms might include seeing flashing lights or blind spots, tingling in the face or hands and a disturbed sense of smell, taste or touch. A migraine can last for a few hours or up to several days.
There is no cure for the migraine condition, but the chronic headache pain can often be relieved with medication, which is most effective when taken at the first sign of symptoms.
Sinus, Rebound & Cluster Headaches
Inflammation in the sinus passages behind the cheeks, nose and eyes can bring on sinus headaches, with sharp pain in the front of the head and face. Sinus headaches often respond to over-the-counter treatment, but if caused by a sinus infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Ironically, sufferers of chronic headaches can fall victim to rebound headaches – if the brain becomes accustomed to medicated relief, then stopping the treatment brings on another, sometimes longer lasting headache.
Careful tapering off of medication under the supervision of a health care provider can help end this painful cycle. Cluster headaches may not last long, but they can occur several times a day for a period of time and then abruptly go away. These chronic headaches are intensely painful and usually one-sided. While some women suffer from cluster headaches, they are more prevalent in men.
Prevention and Treatment: Keep a Headache Diary!
In addition to prescription and over-the-counter medications, you might want to consider evaluating your lifestyle and diet to see if there is a natural way to ease chronic headache symptoms.
Keep a headache diary – when you get a headache, how long it lasts, what you were doing before it started, etc. Can you connect certain activities with headache onset? Are you getting enough sleep? Drinking enough water? Exercising and eating a healthy diet? Sugar, caffeine and alcohol are known headache triggers in some people. Have you had your eyes checked to see if you need glasses? If you wear glasses already, is your prescription correct?
Try yoga, meditation or relaxation and stretching exercises, especially in your neck and upper body. If you work in front of a computer all day, take regular breaks. Sit and stand up straight. If you’re big breasted, make sure to wear a properly-fitting bra. There’s no guarantee these changes will make chronic headaches go away, especially migraines, but pay attention to behavior and habits and there’s a good chance your symptoms might improve.