Headaches and migraines are among the most common disorders of the human nervous system worldwide. In 2015, migraines and severe headaches were the fifth leading health complaint among consumers worldwide. In the United States, over 15 percent of adults complain about severe headaches or migraines. Prevalence among women is more than twice as high as among men. Interestingly, the prevalence of headaches among U.S. adults is distinctly higher among younger people than among those aged 65 years and older.
Classification of headaches
The International Classification of Headache Disorders, published by the International Headache Society, is used to classify more than 150 types of primary and secondary headache disorders.
It occurs independently and are not caused by another medical condition such as: migraine; tension-type; cluster headache; paroxysmal hemicrania
- Migraine headaches
If you suffer from migraine headaches, you’re not alone. About 12 percent of the U.S. population experience migraines. Migraine headaches are characterized by throbbing and pulsating pain caused by the activation of nerve fibers that reside within the wall of brain blood vessels traveling within the meninges. Other common symptoms are increased sensitivity to light, noise, odors, nausea and vomiting; Routine physical activity, movement, even coughing or sneezing can worsen the headache pain.
- Tension-type headaches
Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headaches. Its name indicates the role of stress, mental or emotional conflict in triggering the pain and contracting muscles in the neck, face, scalp, and jaw. Tension-type headaches may also be caused by jaw clenching, intense work, missed meals, depression, anxiety, or lack of sleep. Sleep apnea may also cause tension-type headaches, especially in the morning. The pain is usually mild to moderate and feels as if constant pressure is being applied to the front of the face or to the head or neck. It also may feel as if a belt is being tightened around the head. Most often the pain is felt on both sides of the head. People who suffer tension-type headaches may also feel overly sensitive to light and sound but there are no pre-headache aura as with migraine. Typically, tension-type headaches usually disappear once the period of stress or related cause has ended.
- Cluster headaches
The most severe form of primary headache involves sudden, extremely painful headaches that occur in “clusters,” usually at the same time of the day and night for several weeks. They strike one side of the head, often behind or around one eye, and may be preceded by a migraine-like aura and nausea. The pain usually peaks 5 to 10 minutes after onset and continues at that intensity for up to 3 hours. The nose and the eye on the affected side of the face may get red, swollen, and teary. Some people will experience restlessness, agitation, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and sensitivity to light, sound, or smell. Cluster headaches often wake people from sleep. The attacks are usually less frequent and shorter than migraines.
- Paroxysmal hemicrania
Paroxysmal hemicrania is a rare form of a primary headache that usually begins in adulthood. Pain and related symptoms may be similar to those felt in cluster headaches, but with shorter duration. Severe throbbing, claw-like, or piercing pain is felt on one side of the face in, around, or behind the eye and occasionally reaching to the back of the neck. Other symptoms may include red and watery eyes, a drooping or swollen eyelid on the affected side of the face, and nasal congestion. Individuals may also feel dull pain, soreness, or tenderness between attacks or increased sensitivity to light on the affected side of the face.
Secondary headaches are symptoms of another health disorder that causes pain-sensitive nerve endings to be pressed on, pulled or pushed out of place. They may result from underlying conditions including fever, infection, medication overuse, stress, emotional conflict, high blood pressure, psychiatric disorders, head injury or trauma, stroke, tumors, and nerve disorders.
We have always considered that drugs are the only way to cure our headaches, but herbal medicine proves the opposite. Science has now proven that many natural remedies cure headaches without recurrence. Among them we have:
Feverfew for migraine
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a member of the Asteraceae family. In folk medicine, infusions from the leaves of Tanacetum parthenium were used in rheumatism, fever, migraine, menstrual pain, toothaches also digestive troubles, cough, or parasitic diseases.
Research made in 2013 on preclinical and clinical nature of feverfew demonstrate the efficacy of plants in the prevention of migraine attacks. It has been proven that the biological activity that parthenolide is the component responsible for the biological activity of Tanacetum parthenium as regards its antimigraine effect. Based on the results it has been also concluded that the use of feverfew is safe and recorded side effects are mild and transient.
Tips: Supplements containing feverfew, coenzyme Q10 and magnesium could be beneficial and safe for the prevention of migraine in adult patients.
Peppermint oil for tension headache
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a perennial that results from a cross between spearmint (Mentha spicata) and aquatic mint (Mentha aquatica), grows throughout Europe and North America. Both peppermint leaves and the essential oil from peppermint have been used for health purposses.
A clinical study showed the efficacy of peppermint essential oil externally to reduce tension headache. According to the results of this study, performing a circular massage with ethanol solution containing 10% peppermint essential oil would effectively relieve tension headache, as well as a dose of 1,000 mg of acetaminophen (Tylenol® ).
According to American Family Physician a topical application of peppermint oil can help relieve the symptoms of a tension headache. One of them found peppermint oil to be as effective as Tylenol or paracetamol for pain relief.
Tips: It is recommended to deposit between 2 and 3 drops of pure peppermint essential oil or diluted in a little vegetable oil (for example sweet almond) or warm water on the forehead, temples or at the level of the neck and massage circularly the areas concerned. If the headache persists, repeat the operation every 15 to 30 minutes. Be careful, do not apply peppermint essential oil too close to the eyes.
Willow bark for headache
Willow bark (Salix alba) has been used for thousands of years as an anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and analgesic. According to MedlinePlus it acts a lot like aspirin, so it is used for pain, including headache. salicin, and an active substance that is transformed by the body into salicylic acid whose chemical structure is close to aspirin.
Tips: Salix alba contains chemicals that might increase the amount of acetazolamide in the blood. Taking willow bark along with acetazolamide might increase the effects and side effects of acetazolamide.
We know willow bark contains chemical close to aspirin. People who are allergic to aspirin should not take willow bark to treat headaches.
Butterbur for migraine
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus or Petasites officinalis) is a shrub that grows in Europe and parts of Asia and North America, typically in wet, marshy ground. The name, butterbur, is attributed to the traditional use of its large leaves to wrap butter in warm weather.
According to a study, it was concluded that the patented special extract of butterbur root was safe for treatment in humans.
Through the results obtained on a study of extract of Petasites hybridus is effective in the prophylaxis of migraine, it has been suggested that migraine patients can benefit from prophylactic treatment with this special extract and the combination of high efficacy and excellent tolerance emphasizes the particular value that Petasites hybridus has for the prophylactic treatment of migraine.
Tips: Petasites hybridus roots extract can be used for children and teenager for migraine prophylaxis.
According to Statista the percentage of adults in the U.S who have used analgesic tablets to relieve headaches as of February 2017 was 46 percent of Caucasian and 35 percent of Black or African Americans compared to 16 percent of Caucasian and 6 percent of Black or African Americans who have used essential oils.