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Chronic Headache Information 

See Also: Side Effects of Modern Medical Treatments for Chronic Headache.


The two most common type of headaches are:
1) Tension-type headaches
2) Vascular headaches

Headaches may also result from:
1) Existing medical conditions
2) Medications such as analgesics

Tension-Type Headaches

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 blood vessels. 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:
muscle strain
specific foods 
depression and anxiety 
medications (see section on "Analgesic Rebound Headaches") 

Vascular 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 are:
1. Migraines
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: 
skipping meals 
changes in sleep patterns 
bright lights 
loud noise
environmental changes 
weather changes
strong emotional states, such as depression, anxiety or excitement 

Cluster Headaches

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.

Headache Statistics

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 headache
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 for years
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) 
Prescription analgesics 
Beta blockers
Calcium channel blockers 
Muscle relaxants

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:
rebound headaches

Overdose of prescription analgesics can create other health problems such as:
slurred speech

Prescription analgesics 

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 codeine. Side effects of prescription analgesics include:
gastric irritation
rebound headaches


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: 
circulatory problems
changes in blood pressure
sensitivity to cold
blurred vision

Beta blockers

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 respiratory diseases. Side effects of beta blockers include:
difficulty breathing
skin discoloration
sore throat
slurred speech
nausea and vomiting
stomach pains

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
muscle stiffness
difficulty speaking


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
blurred vision
weight gain
dry mouth
sensitivity to sunlight

Muscle relaxants

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:
gastric irritation

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 information provided.  

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