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What A Pain!

Got a headache? You’ve got plenty of company.

More than 45 million people in the United States have chronic headaches, says the National Headache Foundation, and 28 million of those suffer from migraines.

The economic impact of all those sore heads is huge. A 2002 survey found that 13 percent of the U.S. workforce lost productive time at work because of pain during a specific two-week period. Headaches, the most common malady, caused a mean loss of three and a half work hours a week.

Headache Triggers
The two primary kinds of headaches, tension-type (TTH) and migraine, have different triggers. And despite the fact that they’ve been around as long as mankind, scientists still don’t have a complete understanding of their causes.

The consensus used to be that TTH was simply the result of stress-induced tension in the muscles of the head, neck and shoulders. But it may be that TTH is “a response by the body to emotional strains and pressures rather than to excessive muscular tightness and resultant constriction of the scalp arteries,” writes Manish Singh, M.D., of the Medical College of Pennsylvania.

Migraines, on the other hand, are known as vascular headaches because they’re related to abnormal function of the blood vessels of the brain.

Triggers for tension-type headaches include:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • A long, stressful workday
  • Poor posture or body position (such as holding the phone between your shoulder and your ear)
  • Hunger
  • Eyestrain (for example, from staring at a computer for hours on end)
  • Anxiety and/or depression
Migraine triggers include:
  • A long list of foods that include amino acids such as tyramine, which can affect blood vessels (for example, beer, red wine, chocolate, cheddar cheese, soy sauce, monosodium glutamate and lima beans, to name a few)
  • Skipping meals
  • Stress
  • Intense physical activity
  • Bright lights or sunshine
  • Changes in weather
  • Sleep deprivation or oversleeping
Reduce Headache Pain
Over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs can help you lose the pain of headaches. And experts agree that simple health-enhancing behaviors have the potential to reduce the frequency of headaches.

Start by getting plenty of sleep, preferably going to bed and getting up at about the same time every day. Don’t skip meals, as hunger can be a potent trigger.

Coffee is fine, but don’t go overboard. People who drink more than four to seven cups a day may be more prone to headaches and irritability, the Mayo Clinic says. And if your doctor has recommended you cut back on caffeine, do it gradually. Going cold turkey can cause intense withdrawal headaches.

If you have employees, encourage them to get up from the computer at least once an hour to stretch and refocus their eyes. Walking breaks are another good way to reduce stress and muscular tension.

For employees who have frequent headaches, provide a quiet spot where they can turn off the lights and take a short break.

Learn More
If you or your employees suffer from headaches, find possible causes and ways to cope in the free online article “How To Manage Your Headaches,” available from the NASE at

The article covers:
  • Different types of headaches, including tension, migraine, cluster and sinus headaches
  • Potential causes of headaches
  • Headache medication and other therapies to ease the pain
  • When to see a doctor
  • Resources for information about headaches

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