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Old 05-05-2006, 11:45 AM
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Default Tensin Headaches Cure Without Pain Relievers

Issue Date: April 9, 2006
Ask Dr. Tedd Mitchell a health question

Tension headaches

You might be able to cure them without pain relievers.

Occasionally, when life becomes hectic, I get a dull, aching pain in the back of my head. Although it's not enough to stop me from completing the day's tasks, it does sap my enthusiasm.
Fatigue, stress, lack of sleep, skipped meals, misaligned teeth or jaws, and even poor posture may trigger tension headaches.

Like millions of Americans, I suffer from the most common form of headache, the "tension headache." For most people, these headaches occur occasionally -- a few times per month -- but for some, they may be chronic and happen every few days. In either case, simple behavioral modifications can help.

But first, it's important to distinguish between tension headaches and their cousin, the migraine, because the treatment for each is very different. Tension headaches tend to be mild to moderate in intensity, and although pain may occur anywhere in the head or neck, it's usually in the temples. The onset can be insidious, slowly developing over time. And the quality of pain ranges from dull and aching to throbbing. Generally, tension headaches are not severe enough to stop us from working, going to school or doing our normal routines.

Migraines, on the other hand, stop folks in their tracks. Often preceded by an aura (a visual change, or seeing "sparkles"), a migraine occurs more abruptly. The pain localizes to one side of the head, is throbbing and severe in nature, and can be associated with other symptoms, like nausea and vomiting. These headaches often put a person to bed, which is why they sometimes are referred to as "sick headaches."

While tension headaches may not be as severe as migraines, they can be terribly uncomfortable. What causes them? The answer is not quite clear. But certain factors predispose people to the problem. These include fatigue, lack of sleep, stress and anxiety, skipped meals, poor posture, and even misaligned teeth or jaws.

Determining the best course of action to treat tension headaches requires some reflection. Even if your tension headaches are responding nicely to over-the-counter pain medications, look at whether other factors are contributing to them. Usually, with a few simple changes, we can decrease the frequency of headaches. For example, a person whose headaches occur at the end of a long, stressful day may benefit from an exercise routine and stress management. On the other hand, if someone wakes up each morning with a headache, he may be clenching his teeth during the night, in which case a custom-fitted mouthpiece from the dentist could help him better manage his problem.

If you can't see a pattern to your headaches or identify a potential cause, then a trip to the doctor is in order. Besides helping to classify the type of headaches you have, your doctor will discuss your symptoms and perhaps find hidden triggers. Once your doctor identifies triggers, he can help you adjust your behaviors, which may improve your headaches.

No matter what, don't just rely on painkillers to treat your tension headaches. While effective, medicines -- even over-the-counter ones -- have side effects. It's best to find and correct lifestyle factors that may contribute to tension headaches.

Tension headaches may not interrupt daily lives like migraines do, but they are quite common, and they really put a kink in the day. Fortunately, identifying and making corrective changes based on triggers can reduce the frequency of headaches, as well as our reliance on over-the-counter pain pills. And that's definitely worth a little of your time.
Don't get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.
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