One problem, six causes, loads of solutions.
You know what's a headache? Headaches. More than 45 million Americans suffer from them regularly; 36 million routinely battle migraines (which affect three times as many women as men, most often between the ages of 20 and 45). But heads up: Relief is at hand if you can pinpoint the source of your pain.
1. Tension Throbber
Feels like...you're wearing a too-tight headband around your forehead.
The Cause: Stress. Tension headaches, which are the most widely experienced kind, may be triggered by an imbalance in neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine, says neurologist Peter Goadsby, MD, PhD, director of the University of California, San Francisco Headache Center.
The Cure: These headaches can respond well to over-the-counter pain medication or even to relaxation techniques like deep breathing, yoga, and napping.
2. Hunger Headache
Feels like...head pain plus stomach pangs.
The Cause: A drop in blood sugar when you skip meals may starve the brain of glucose, its primary fuel, according to Kylene Guerra, dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic.
The Cure: Guerra recommends eating a small, balanced meal, like half a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, every four hours to keep blood sugar levels stable.
3. Ponytail Pounder
Feels like...pain at the site of your ponytail holder that may radiate to your head or neck.
The Cause: Pulling your hair back too tightly can put strain on the muscles and tissue under your scalp, causing an extracranial headache (meaning it's not brought on by anything in the skull), according to a study from the City of London Migraine Clinic.
Feels like...a pounding pain typically on one side of your head that can bring on nausea, light-headedness, and blurry vision.
The Cause: A migraine, a chronic disorder that triggers severe headaches, can last anywhere from four hours to three days if untreated. "Nearly half of migraine sufferers don't even know they have them—they think they're just dealing with a really bad headache," Goadsby says.
The Cure: Over-the-counter headache remedies can treat infrequent (fewer than two a month) migraines, but for the 40 percent of sufferers who have several bad attacks a month, prescription meds, including beta-blockers and certain antidepressants, can help minimize the frequency, as can supplements like vitamin B2 and coenzyme Q10.
5. Post–Cocktail Party Fog
Feels like...a really bad hangover.
The Cause: Alcohol and foods containing the chemical tryamine (think beer, red wine, and cheese) have been shown to bring on migraines. Dinner party fare like processed meats preserved with sodium nitrate can dilate blood vessels in the head, causing pain.
The Cure: Pace yourself if you're drinking, and keep a food journal to look for patterns between certain meals and headaches so you know which foods to avoid.
6. Eye-Strain Pain
Feels like...an ache that's usually concentrated behind your eyes.
The Cause: Staring at a computer screen all day may cause your eye muscles to eventually fatigue and tighten up, which can lead to a tension headache, says Dallas-based neuro-ophthalmologist Deborah Friedman, MD.
The Cure: "If you get frequent headaches, take a 15-minute computer break every two hours," says Friedman. Getting up from your chair to walk around is already a heart-healthy practice, and your eyes will thank you, too.