A Man Looking Sick while Working with His Laptop
A Man Looking Sick while Working with His Laptop

In ancient Greece, headaches were considered powerful afflictions, victims prayed for relief from Asclepius the god of medicine and if pain continued, a medical practitioner would perform the best known remedy, drilling a small hole in the skull to drain supposedly infected blood, this dire technique called trepanation often replaced the headache with a more permanent condition. Fortunately doctors today don’t resort to power tools to cure headaches but we still have a lot to learn about this ancient ailment, today we’ve classified headaches into two types, primary headaches and secondary headaches, the former are not symptomatic of an underlying disease injury or condition, they are the condition but we’ll come back to them in a minute because while primary headaches account for 50% of reported cases, we actually know much more about secondary headaches, these are caused by other health problems with triggers ranging from dehydration and caffeine withdrawal to head and neck injury and heart disease doctors have classified over 150 diagnoseable types, all with different potential causes, symptoms and treatments but we’ll take just one common case, a sinus infection as an example, the sinuses are a system of cavities that spread behind our foreheads, noses and upper cheeks, when our sinuses are infected, our immune response heats up the area roasting the bacteria and in flaming the cavities well past their usual size.

The engorged sinuses put pressure on the cranial arteries and veins as well as muscles in the neck and head, their pain receptors called nociceptors trigger in response cueing the brain to release a flood of neuro peptides that inflamed the cranial blood vessels, swelling and heating up the head. This discomfort paired with hypersensitive head muscles creates the sore throbbing pain of a headache, not all headache pain comes from swelling tense muscles and inflamed sensitive nerves caused varying degrees of discomfort in each headache but all cases are reactions to some cranial irritant while the cause is clear in secondary headaches, the origins of primary headaches remain unknown, scientists are still investigating potential triggers for the three types of primary headaches, recurring long-lasting migraines, intensely painful rapid-fire cluster headaches and most common of all the tension headache as the name suggests tension headaches are known for creating the sensation of a tight band squeezed around the head. These headaches increase the tenderness of the para cranial muscles which then painfully pulse with blood and oxygen patients report stress dehydration and hormone changes as triggers but these don’t fit the symptoms quite right. For example in dehydration headaches, the frontal lobe actually shrinks away from the skull creating forehead swelling that doesn’t match the location of the pain in tension.

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