75% of all headaches are tension-type headaches, caused by a
tightening of the muscles in the back of the neck and the scalp.
This tightening of the muscles decreases the blood flow to the head,
and irritates the pain fibers in the skin, muscles, and walls of the
Tension-type headaches produce a steady, constant pain on both sides
of the head which can last anywhere from several hours to several
days, or even months. If these headaches occur regularly over a
period of years they are considered to be chronic.
Tension-type headaches can be triggered by:
depression and anxiety
medications (see section on "Analgesic Rebound Headaches")
Vascular headaches are caused by dilation of the blood vessels in
the head, and are characterized by a throbbing or pounding pain,
usually on one side of the head. The most common vascular headaches
2. Cluster headaches
3. Migraine Headaches
28 million people in the United States suffer from migraine
headaches—12% of the total population (6% of all males, 18% of all
females). For more than 70% of migraine sufferers the tendency to
have migraines is hereditary. Migraines often begin during
adolescence, but occur most frequently in adults between the ages of
35 and 45.
Migraines are associated with changing levels of seratonin, a
neurotransmitter produced in the brain. At the onset of a migraine
headache the seratonin levels first rise and then fall dramatically.
In addition to a throbbing or pounding pain on one side of the head,
migraine sufferers also experience nausea, extreme sensitivity to
light and noise, and sometimes dizziness or lightheadedness. The
pain is aggravated by activity.
20% of migraine sufferers experience a visual disturbance (aura) at
the onset of the headache, usually 20 to 60 minutes before the
headache starts. The aura is experienced as flashes of light or
shimmering jagged lines in the field of vision. The individual may
also experience blank spots in the field of vision, tunnel vision,
numbness, weakness, or difficulty speaking.
Migraine headaches can be triggered by:
changes in sleep patterns
strong emotional states, such as depression, anxiety or excitement
Over 1 million people in the United States suffer from cluster headaches. 90%
are male, and most are between the ages of 20 and 30.
The name "cluster headaches" is used because they occur in groups,
up to 4 times a day. They are also referred to as "alarm clock
headaches" since they usually occur at the same time each day, often
in the night or in the early morning hours.
Cluster headaches are the most painful type of headache, producing a
sharp burning or piercing sensation. The pain is felt on one side of
the head, usually behind the eye. During the headache the eye
becomes watery and inflamed, and the pupil will contract. The nose
may become congested on the same side of the head as the pain. Cluster
headaches are short, lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to 1
or 2 hours. Because the attack is so brief, administering
medications can be difficult. Cluster headaches usually occur for a
few weeks or months at a time and then go into remission for months
or even years.
Cluster Headaches can be triggered by:
Headaches Caused By Medical Conditions
Headaches may also occur due to flu, fever, infections, internal
bleeding, and tumors, or in connection with conditions such as
sinusitis, allergies, arthritis, or head injury. In these cases,
once the contributing condition is relieved the headache goes away.
Analgesic Rebound Headaches
Analgesic Rebound Headaches are caused by prescription or non-prescription headache medications.
Analgesic agents are used to treat headache symptoms, but when they are taken on a daily basis
they can become the cause of headaches. Since the medication
interferes with the body's natural ability to fight pain, the body
becomes extremely susceptible to pain once the influence of the drug
has worn off.
Every day one out of seven Americans stops or limits their
activity due to a headache
Each year 90% of all men and 95% of all women have at least one
10 million people visit the doctor each year due to headaches
Absenteeism and medical care for headaches costs the United States
over 50 billion dollars annually
Over 40 million people suffer from chronic headaches that recur
Each year more than 4 billion dollars is spent on over-the-counter
medications for headaches, many of which are not effective in
relieving the pain.
Harmful effects, which can be serious and even lethal, are
associated with every facet of modern medicine. Click
here for information about general hazards
of modern medical treatments.
Hazards of "Modern" Medicine Pertaining to Chronic Headache Avoided by Maharishi Vedic Approach to Health
Drugs of "Modern" Medicine and their side effects
The most common drug used for treating headaches are:
Over-the-counter analgesics (pain relievers)
Calcium channel blockers
Over-the-counter analgesics (pain relievers)
Over-the-counter analgesics such as aspirin and acetaminophen are
sold as pain relievers and may help reduce inflammation. They are
sometimes combined with other ingredients such as caffeine in an
attempt to improve the effectiveness of the drug.
Side effects of over-the-counter analgesics include:
Overdose of prescription analgesics can create other health problems
Prescription analgesics are used for moderate and severe pain
associated with tension-type headaches and migraines. Either single
analgesics, such as ibuprofen and meclofenamate, or combination
analgesics may be prescribed. The combination analgesics are thought
to be more effective, but are also more dangerous to use because
they may be combined with habit forming agents such as sedatives or
Side effects of prescription analgesics include:
Since vasoconstrictors have even more serious side effects than
analgesics, they are usually prescribed for vascular headaches only
when analgesics fail. They attempt to prevent headaches by stopping
the blood vessels from swelling. The most common vasoconstrictor is
ergotamine. Dihydroergotamine (DHE) is an intravenous form of
ergotamine. Due to the dangers of their side effects, it is advised
not to use vasoconstrictors more that once very 4 days.
Side effects of vasoconstrictors include:
changes in blood pressure
sensitivity to cold
Beta blockers are used primarily for hypertension and other
cardiovascular disorders, but they may also be prescribed for
vascular headaches. They are given to stabilize the action of the
blood vessels and prevent them from dilating. These drugs used on a
daily basis with the goal of preventing headaches. It is important
that beta blockers are not used by people with asthma or other
Side effects of beta blockers include:
nausea and vomiting
Calcium channel blockers
Calcium channel blockers are generally used for treating
cardiovascular disorders, however they may also be prescribed to
treat vascular headaches such as migraines and cluster headaches.
The goal of using calcium channel blockers is to disallow calcium
ions from entering the muscle cells of the blood vessels, and
thereby keep the blood vessels from swelling. These drugs are taken
on a daily basis in the hope of preventing headaches.
Side effects of calcium channel blockers include:
loss of balance
Antidepressants such as tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors
are used to treat chronic tension-type headaches. They act as an
analgesic and may also have an effect on depression related to the
headache. The most common antidepressant used is amitriptyline.
Side effects of tricyclics or monoamine oxidase inhibitors include:
high blood pressure
sensitivity to sunlight
Muscle relaxants are used for tension-type headaches and in the
early stages of migraines. Some muscle relaxants are mixed with
caffeine or codeine and can be addictive.
Side effects of muscle relaxants include:
Disclaimer: The content in this information page for headaches
is provided by the
Maharishi Ayurveda Foundation. It is for information
purposes only and is not intended to provide medical advice or to replace the advice given by a
primary health care provider. Because of the rapid change of information in the field of medicine
Maharishi Vedic Health Center does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the
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