Resolving Headache Pain

Recognizing National Headache Awareness Month, June 2011


Many people experience the throbbing or gnawing pain associated with headaches several times each year. According to the National Headache Foundation (NHF), more than 45 million Americans get reoccurring headaches, making it the most common pain-related health problem.

The American Headache Society reports that each year Americans spend more than $1 billion for over-the-counter and prescription medications to treat headaches, and businesses lose about $13 billion in reduced employee productivity and work hours.

Medical experts classify headaches into three groups:

  • Tension – At least 90 percent of headaches are tension-related; described as a band of pressure around the head, at the base of the skull or back of the neck
  • Migraine – More than 29 million Americans experience migraines; usually described as throbbing pain, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, smells or sound; may be an inherited condition or related to diet, stress, physical or environmental changes
  • Cluster – About 1 million Americans (mostly men) suffer from this type of headache, which produces debilitating pain stronger than a migraine; usually lasts less than an hour and occurs on a predictable schedule, from three weeks to eight weeks in duration

Headache Causes
Although medical researchers have not found an exact reason why headaches occur, they have discovered links to foods with specific additives or chemical compounds that may trigger a headache:

  • MSG (monosodium glutamate) – Foods that contain this additive may include frozen and canned foods, dry soups, lunch meats, processed foods and restaurant menu items, such as Chinese entrees
  • Nitrates – This preservative chemical often is found in bacon, sausage, canned ham, smoked fish, hot dogs and deli meats
  • Tyramine – Medical researchers believe foods with tyramine may activate headaches, especially migraines; a naturally occurring chemical compound, tyramine is found in aged and preserved foods, such as hard cheese, peas, navy and lima beans, yogurt, alcoholic beverages and chocolate

NHF also notes that less than seven percent of all Americans who experience chronic headaches seek medical assistance. If you experience headaches several times each week, consult your physician to determine the cause and find solutions to resolve this aching problem.

If you, or someone you know, have experienced headaches on a regular basis, what treatment options did you pursue? What was identified as the source of the problem? – Ken VanCleave, Ameritas Group