Headaches suck, period. They have an infallible ability to ruin an otherwise stellar day.  Before you can treat the awful day-buster, we need to figure out exactly what type of headache you’re suffering from.  Headaches come in two varieties: primary & secondary.  Primary headaches, including migraine, tension-type and cluster, exist without outside influence. Secondary headaches, migraine headache with a clearly identifiable pathological cause, include withdrawal headaches as well as headaches related to high blood pressure, cervical spine issues, tumors, etc.  Luckily, most headaches present in a relatively predictable way, making them easier to identify and properly treat.  It’s about time we had some good news!

Stat Fact: The International Headache Society has classified over 300 different types of headaches.

Before we can call your headache a primary headache, we need to eliminate all possible causes of secondary headaches.  These headaches can be benign like caffeine withdrawal or a big problem like a tumor and may need treatment (do not freak out just yet…brain tumors are extremely rare). Even though tumors aren’t that common, neurosurgery is still the best option for treatment.  Below is a list of questions that help physicians rule out scary causes of headaches.  Remember that answering yes to any of these questions is not diagnostic (meaning that we can’t confirm the headache etiology simply by answering yes). The questions simply help physicians narrow their list of possible causes and rule out more dangerous etiologies.  True diagnostic testing (MRI, CT scan) may be needed if you’re answering yes to these questions provided by the medical call center.

  • Have you experienced significant head trauma? If so, you may be at risk of a subdural or epidural hematoma.
  • Did your headache begin slowly and progress daily? Does it recur everyday?  Is it worse in the morning? Are you over the age of 50? If you answered yes to all of these questions, you have the classic characteristics of a headache caused by a tumor and should be evaluated by your physician.
  • Are you experiencing any neurological deficits like dizziness, loss of strength or sensation in part of your body, or difficulty with speech? If so, you may have suffered from a stroke or an aneurysm and should be immediately seen by a physician.
  • Are you unable to bring your head to your chest without significant pain in your neck and/or spine? If you put your chin to your chest, do you uncontrollably flex at the hips and knees?  If so, you have a classic sign of meningitis called Brudzinski’s sign and should be seen by your physician for further diagnostic testing (likely a lumbar puncture).
  • Do you have a history of cancer or HIV?  If so, you are at risk for metastatic spread of the cancer or intracranial infections (i.e. infections in your brain).
  • Have you recently started a new medication?  Have you recently stopped taking a medication? You may be suffering from a medication side effect or rebound headache.
  • Have you recently stopped smoking, drinking coffee, drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs? If so, you may be experience headaches related to withdrawal.
  • Do your headaches occur after reading or working on the computer? Have you had a recent change in your eyeglasses prescription? You can try changing to glasses to air optix contact lenses. Your headache may be caused by eye strain, Andover family optometry can help you to diagnose any kind of eye issues.
  • Do you spend a significant portion of your day working at a desk or computer?  Is your workspace ergonomically correct?  Do you feel tension in your neck and shoulders at the end of the day?  If your workspace is not ergonomically correct, you are at risk for a tension headache caused by straining of the muscles in your neck and upper back that will transmit this tension to your scalp causing a band-like tension headache.
  • Are you exposed to toxic chemicals at home or at work?  This one is a no-brainer.
  • Have you been watching a lot of “Total Gym” commercials? You are almost certainly suffering from a Chuck Norris-induced headache.  Turn off the TV ASAP!

Stat Fact: Daily use of or withdraw from analgesics, ergotamine or NSAIDS including over the counter medications (for example, Excedrin) can cause headaches.  Rebound headaches are estimated to occur in 1% of the population.

Once the scary diagnoses are ruled out, the diagnosis of the more commonly recognized headache disorders can be pursued.

Migraine Headaches

There are a number of subtypes of migraine headaches but for the purposes of this article we will discuss the two main two forms: migraine with aura and migraine without aura.

The diagnostic criteria for a migraine without aura include the following key symptoms:

  1. It lasts 4-72 hrs
  2. It has at least 2 of the following:
  • Unilateral (one sided)
  • Pulsating quality
  • Aggravated by routine physical activity
  1. During the headache, at least one of the following occur:
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Photphobia (sensitivity to light) or phonophobia (sensitivity of sound)
  • Not attributed to another disorder

Migraine with aura criteria

  1. Aura consists of at least one of the following without weakness:
  • Fully reversible visual symptoms (seeing flickering lights, kind of like the Kanye song)
  • Fully reversible sensory symptoms (sensation of pins and needles)
  • Fully reversible dysphasia (difficulty talking)
  1. At least 2 of the following:
  • Homonymous visual symptoms (seeing half a visual field in each eye, like covering up half of the outside view on your left and half of your inside view on the right) and/or unilateral sensory symptoms
  • At least one aura symptom which lasts 5 minutes or more
  • Each symptom lasts >5 minutes and less than 50 minutes

It’s hard to keep track of all those criteria, right?  Luckily, some clever docs came up with the wonderful mnemonic, POUND, to help us remember how to diagnose a migraine headache:

  • P = Pulsatile
  • O = Over 4 hours
  • U = Unilateral
  • N = Nausea
  • D = Debilitating

How should you treat your migraine?

Migraines respond best to a treatment with medication including ergotamine (Cafegot), sumatriptan (Imitec), beta blockers (Inderal), calcium channel blockers (Verapamil).  However, there is also promising new research regarding the use of botox injections for migraines.

Stat Fact: Migraines can be triggered by foods, most notably cheese, chocolate and caffeine. These headaches are rarely improved with over the counter medication. Know your triggers and do your best to avoid them!


Make the most of aromatherapy for health and home!
Essential aromatherapy can be used every day and in a multitude of different ways. It is fantastic for health and relaxation, there are oils for bronchial and flu conditions, there are those oils which improve clarity of mind or for anti-fungal treatments, but many people do not realise that essential aromatherapy can be used around the house also. A little knowledge of essential aromatherapy can make a tremendous improvement to your everyday life.

Around the house, try the following tips:

– Add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to a light bulb diffuser and let the warmth from the light bulb circulate your chosen fragrance. Choose uplifting oils to increase clarity of mind or relaxing oils to help you unwind after a difficult day.
– Add a couple of drops of your chosen oil to a candle before lighting.
– Add a couple of drops of essential aromatherapy oil to a cotton wool ball and place in a draw or a cupboard. Enjoy the aroma every time you go to that area.
– To aid sleep, add a few drops of lavender oil or Neroli to your pillow.
– Add just one drop of Geranium oil to your favourite moisturiser and this will help bring out a wonderful glow to your skin.
– Add one drop of Rosemary oil to your hairbrush as it will give you healthy hair
– Use either lavender oil or tea tree oil directly to cuts and grazes to promote healing.
– Place a few drops of your favourite essential aromatherapy oil to a cloth and add it to your tumble dryer.
– Peppermint oil on the bottom of the door frame will prevent ants from coming in.
– If you have a headache, rub a few drops of lavender oil into your temples as this will help alleviate the pain.

Oils are versatile in that they can be used in so many different ways for both home and health, it is worth choosing the oils which you feel initially would be most beneficial; therefore choose your essential aromatherapy oil wisely.