Information, Symptoms, Treatments and Resources


Stop Headaches Before They Start


6. Monitor Your Caffeine Intake

Caffeine can be both a friend and a foe when it comes to preventing headaches. Many headache medications actually contain caffeine because it makes them more effective and helps your body to absorb the medicine faster. However, popping a pain reliever pre-emptively, taking too much medication once you feel a headache or pairing a caffeine-containing medication with other sources of caffeine (coffee, tea, soda, etc) can actually cause more headaches. These “rebound headaches” can be prevented by reducing or stopping the pain medication in question.

Headaches from caffeine withdrawal are actually a rare occurrence, so you don’t need to worry that skipping your morning cup of coffee is going to cause a headache. However, cutting back on caffeine if you consume 500 mg a day (the equivalent of about 5 cups of coffee) can cause discomfort — so if you’re trying to cut back, do so gradually.


7. Balance Your Diet

Brain function requires a delicate balance of nutrients, particularly electrolytes like potassium, magnesium chloride and sodium. That’s why it’s important to eat three meals a day, snack at consistent intervals and stay hydrated. This will also guarantee that your blood sugar doesn’t dip too low, which can trigger headaches.

In addition, certain foods (like chocolate, cheese and some food additives) are known headache triggers. Some types of cheese, for instance, contain tyramine, which increase the flow of blood to the brain and can lead to headaches. The more aged a cheese is, the more tyramine it contains. Be mindful of your body’s response to the foods you consume, and adjust your diet accordingly.


8. Give Up Cigarettes and Alcohol

Both vices can contribute to headaches. Alcohol dehydrates your body, and both alcohol and the nicotine in cigarettes cause your blood vessels to constrict. When that happens, your body immediately starts to send more blood and oxygen to your brain, causing your blood vessels to expand and become inflamed, causing a throbbing head pain.


9. Let Your Hair Down

Don’t brush off the idea that your primping could be what’s causing your pain. Ponytails, too-tight hats, headbands and even glasses or sunglasses can pull on the muscles in your scalp, causing irritation. Plus, the sudden change from a tight up-do to loose locks can further irritate your already-sensitive scalp, leading to pain. Try going accessory-free as often as you can, and if you’re forever sporting the sleek ponytail look, try wearing your hair down more often — and leaving it down all day.


10. The Acupuncture Alternative

Don’t let your fear of needles stop you from trying acupuncture to prevent headache pain — several studies have supported the theory that acupuncture can help reduce various types of headaches, including migraines and tension headaches. The practice, which originated in China more than 2,000 years ago, involves trained practitioners penetrating your skin with thin, metallic needles at specific pressure points. In Eastern tradition, pain is thought to result from stalled energy in the area that hurts. Acupuncture is supposed to clear the blockage, and allow for the normal flow of energy to continue, thus relieving the pain.


When Headaches Become More Serious

The tips above may help you to pinpoint some of the causes of your common, everyday headaches and help you to relieve the pain. But keep in mind that all headaches are not created equal, and that pain is always your body’s way of telling you something isn’t quite right. While headaches can be a common occurrence, there are times when the pain can indicate something more serious. If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention:

  • A sudden, new, severe headache
  • A headache that brings along with it weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance or falling, numbness or tingling, paralysis, speech difficulties, mental confusion, seizures, personality changes/inappropriate behavior or vision changes (blurry vision, double vision or blind spots)
  • Headache with a fever, shortness of breath, stiff neck, or rash
  • Headache pain that awakens you at night
  • Headaches with severe nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches that occur after a head injury or accident
  • A new type of headache after age 55



Published April 17, 2012.


Andrea Craig is a freelance writer and editorial assistant at a national magazine in New York City.

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