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Get to know why your head aches.

Summary: "The triggers for primary headaches can be certain foods, such as processed meats that contain tyramine, lack of sleep, skipped meals, changes in weather and stress."

About 150 to 200 patients visit Rashid Hospital's neurology department per week for headache-related issues, which is 40 per cent of all cases the department receives.

Dr Ayman Al Boudi, neurologist at Rashid Hospital, said headaches are divided into two categories: Primary and secondary. A primary headache is not a symptom of an underlying disease; it is caused by over activity of pain-sensitive structures in the head.

He was speaking at Dubai Health Authority's (DHA) smart clinic held on Monday to discuss the causes and treatment options for headaches.

Al Boudi said migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headaches fall under primary headaches. "In the case of migraines, patients should be aware of foods that can trigger a migraine and foods that can help relieve it.

This differs from person to person. For example, for some patients, coffee and chocolate are triggers that can cause headaches, but for others, it can actually help relieve the migraine. Therefore, awareness of one's body helps tackle migraine. Stress, sleep deprivation and excessive work load can also trigger a migraine."

Al Boudi said tension type headache is the other type of primary headache.

When to visit a doctor

Dr Yasir Mehmood Malik, neurologist at Rashid Hospital said secondary headaches are due to underlying health problems and need to be investigated.

"A rule of thumb is that if the headache is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, vision problem, loss of consciousness, abnormal jerking or a sensory or motor complaint it is better to get it checked. If the headache occurs for more than a month, it should be investigated.

There are certain conditions in which patients should immediately visit a healthcare professional. Malik said: "If the person gets a very severe headache all of a sudden, if the headache is accompanied by loss of consciousness, jerky movements, blurry vision, sensory abnormality the person should immediately visit the hospital because these are symptoms for something acute such as bleeding in the brain."

The causes of secondary headache are varied and can be due to acute sinusitis, blood clot within the brain, blockage in artery of the brain, abnormal formation of brain blood vessels, structural problem in the skull, concussion, dental problems, ear infection, glaucoma, influenza, meningitis, panic attacks and so on.

Maryam Ali Essa, senior clinical dietician in DHA's clinical nutrition department said food can also trigger headaches.

"Processed foods, additives, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, chocolate, cheese and grapes are foods that can trigger migraines. Certain perfumes or peculiar smells such as those of onion and garlic can trigger migraines.

"The triggers vary for each individual and therefore we ask patients to be alert so that they understand their triggers and avoid those. If a patient feels a particular food may be a headache trigger, it is best to remove it from his diet. If the patient puts it back in his diet and headaches return, then it is a real trigger."

Headaches and perimenopause

Essa said: "Migraines may become more frequent and severe during perimenopause because hormone levels rise and fall unevenly. This fluctuation triggers migraines. Hormone replacement therapy is sometimes used to treat perimenopause and once menopause occurs, mostly the headaches settle. Every person is different and reacts differently and therefore women who experience headaches during this time should seek medical intervention so that the doctor can see what best works for them."

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Feb 1, 2016
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