Headaches can be considered one of the most common complaints of people because we commonly experience headaches especially during times of stress. Although most of us know what it feels like to have headaches, we seldom know the scientific explanation why headaches occur. Here, we discuss the scientific basis of the occurrence of headaches.
What is a headache?
Headaches are pain along the cephalic area that is usually located along the neck and head. Headaches are commonly symptoms of underlying problems along the cephalic region that causes the nerve endings to be sensitive. Contrary to common belief, headaches are not pain sensations on the brain because the brain tissue lacks pain receptors. Headaches are commonly sensitization of nerve receptors along the regions around the brain. These regions may include the nerves, muscles, cranium or skull, blood vessels, subcutaneous tissues, mucous membranes, eyes, ears and the sinuses. All these areas may suffer from specific conditions that may cause headaches.
Headache is considered a non-specific symptom meaning that there might be a number of causes of the development of which.
What are the Scientific Reasons behind Headaches?
Headaches have underlying body processes, which causes the head to ache. However, specific explanations depend on the type of headache because various types of headaches may originate from various causes. To help you understand the reasons for headaches, the following are the common types of headaches and the scientific explanation on their occurrence:
• Migraine Headaches- Migraine headaches can be one of the most debilitating headaches because along with aches on the nape and cranium, migraines can be accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances and dizziness. Migraine headaches commonly arise because of changes in blood flow in the head.
• Cluster Headaches- Cluster headaches are another kind of headache involving pain on one side of the head originating around the eyes. Cluster type headaches are usually caused by alterations in blood flow to the cranium.
• Tension headaches- Tension headache is the most common type of headache felt on the nape, side of the head and on the frontal area. Tension headaches are commonly caused by muscle tightness around the cranium leading to a feeling of tight band around the head.
All these are considered primary headaches in that there are no underlying medical conditions that cause the pain. Secondary headaches are those developing as a result of underlying medical conditions such as meningitis, brain tumor and others.
Pathophysiology of Headaches
The various areas around the brain contain pain receptors known as nociceptors. These nerve endings usually detect pain causing the feeling of headaches.
The most common reasons of sensitizing these pain receptors are traction and irritation of the nerves. The nerves become irritated or stretched due to various reasons. First, increase in blood flow to the head or reduce venous drainage may increase the blood volume and pressure along the blood vessels in the cranium. This distends the blood vessels and puts pressure along nearby pain receptors. Second, there can also be presence of muscle tightness and tenderness. This tightening of muscles along the head will also put pressure along the nerves passing through the tightened muscles. Once they are irritated, chemical mediators arise signalling the brain for pain sensations and the body interprets this as pain on the head. Primary headaches employ changes in blood supply and muscle tightness along the cranium causing headaches.
On the other hand, secondary headaches such as the presence of brain tumor directly put pressure along the pain receptors causing pain. Headaches often employ the presence of poor circulation and pressure on the head giving rise to sensitization of pain receptors leading to headaches.