When is a headach something to worry about?

When is a headach something to worry about?



I spend a lot of time treating people with headaches. In fact, headaches are the most common cause of pain, and a frequent reason people miss work. Nearly everyone experiences a headache in their lives. But when is a headache something to worry about?

When is it just a headache?

The most common type of headache is a tension headache which is commonly triggered by poor posture, tight neck muscles, grinding or clenching the jaw or eye strain.

Some headaches are secondary to an underlying condition that needs to be addressed. Some are a symptom of dehydration or overdoing caffeine, nicotine or alcohol.

Common causes of headaches are caffeine withdrawal, alcohol overconsumption, reaction to sulphites in wine or beer or nitrates in aged meats and cheeses, dehydration, skipping meals, sinus infections, poor sleep and stress.

Sudden, severe headache could be due to a neurological issue like a stroke, a head injury, an infection.

Migraines are headaches that usually are accompanied by other neurological symptoms like nausea, light or sound sensitivity. They are described as throbbing pain and typically are one sided. These types of headaches may occur during a woman’s menses. It is common to see them in family clusters.

Headaches that require immediate attention are accompanied by high fever, seizures, numbness, loss of coordination or vision, a rash or other unusual symptoms. If it is following a head injury, it could be serious. In these cases, a trip to the ER is warranted.

If you are over 50 and are getting headaches and have never had them in the past, underlying medical conditions need to be ruled out. High blood pressure, sinusitis, sleep apnea or certain medications can all trigger headaches but so can brain tumors. Your PCP or neurologist can do testing and imaging to rule out serious conditions.

From a naturopathic perspective, what can help prevent or treat headaches? Make sure you are eating well, avoiding foods high in sulfites (wine and beer) and nitrates (smoked meats, aged cheeses). Careful with overdoing certain over-the-counter medications as they can trigger headaches, even the ones that are used to treat them. Limit caffeine to 1-2 cups per day. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and drinking enough water.

Do regular neck stretches and wear a night guard if you are clenching your teeth in the night. Get off the computer and rest your eyes during the day.

Supplements that can help with headaches are magnesium, preferably glycinate or threonate or if you are constipated, then magnesium citrate. 300 -450 mg per day. And vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is often helpful for migraine type headaches.

Physical therapy, acupuncture, massage and chiropractic care are all great for reducing tight muscles and stress that often contribute to headaches.


Dr. Jennifer Means welcomes you for Primary Care for the whole family: Nutrition, IV Therapy, Naturopathy, and Acupuncture. Contact us at 503-641-6400.