What you need to know:
WHO warns about the long-term effects of headaches
Primary headaches could either be migraines, or cluster headaches
Secondary headaches can be due to underlying medical conditions
Headaches, for Nyarinda Moraa, have lately been a headache. She has been having recurring headaches and, without painkillers, they will not go away.
When she went to social media to lament on the annoying pain that paralyses her daily routine, she summarised her feelings in one Swahili expression: Nimechoka (I am tired).
The World Health Organization estimates that half of the adult population experiences headaches annually. In fact, they say, “Not only is headache painful, but it is also disabling.”
The recurring headache is something new for Moraa. “In August, I read 16 books in a week. In between those days, I had very problematic eyes. I was sensitive to light,” she tells HealthyNation.
“I was reading Swahili books, which I was not used to. This may have increased my brain activity, so in that month, I went to hospital almost three times,” Moraa adds.
Even though she knows taking water can help prevent these headaches, it is not her most favourite thing to do. She says her friends on social media, when she posted about her headaches, advised her to start taking water. Something she has since embraced. “Water does not excite me, but lately, I have been taking half a litre or even more in a day," she says.
Moraa also suspects her headaches could be due to inadequate sleep. Since her classes are virtual and start late in the night, she has to stay up when everyone else is sleeping.
When her lifestyle changed a bit, her headaches showed up, and they came at top speed. “One time I stopped taking tea, and I had terrible migraines, but I am not sure if that is a cause of the headaches,” she says.
Stress too. “Sometimes I think about so many things and in that process I get a headache.”
That could be a worrying trend because, the WHO says: “The long-term effort of coping with a chronic headache disorder may also predispose the individual to other illnesses. For example, anxiety and depression are significantly more common in people with migraine than in healthy individuals.”
Dr Sylvia Mbugua, a neurologist at the Aga Khan University Hospital, categorises headaches into two: primary and secondary. She explains that primary headaches could either be migraines, or cluster headaches.
She says: “There are many underlying theories as to why these headaches occur and key among these is activation of painful receptors and neuronal irritation and activation. Patients become very sensitive to light and loud noise and feel better when they lie down in a quiet dark room.”
Dr Mbugua attributes secondary headaches to underlying medical conditions. “Some of the causes include toothache, sinusitis, eye problems, bad vision, ear infection or inflammation in any of the structures of the head and neck," she says.
“Other causes of headaches are brain tumours, head injury, meningitis and other specific neurological conditions which cause increased pressure in the brain, notably, stroke, intracranial bleeds, ruptured blood vessels (aneurysms) and clots within the cerebral veins.”
For people like Moraa, who have ‘tiring’ headaches, or those that Dr Mbugua terms the worst headaches ever, she says: “It is important to seek specialist neurology review urgently as the consequences of such conditions if not treated in good time, could lead to significant illness and could even be fatal.”
On what triggers headaches in our daily routines, Dr Mbugua says some people are prone to headaches due to their working environment, underlying medical conditions or unknown medical conditions.
Whatever cause contributes to your headache, you are advised to seek medical attention from a neurologist. “This identifies the specific cause of the headache and an appropriate treatment plan commenced thereafter,” she advises.
Notably, she says: “It is important to adhere to healthy lifestyle habits like regular exercises, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and eradicating headache triggers such as prolonged computer screen time, fatigue and exhaustion.”