If you find yourself frequently reaching for the aspirin bottle to fight against a throbbing headache, you may be wondering whether a more long-term solution exists. However, when these headaches aren't quite severe enough (in either intensity or duration) to be classified as migraines, you may find it difficult to find relief -- or even an official diagnosis. Often, determining the best way to rid yourself of your chronic headache will require you to narrow down the root cause and seek treatment for this issue rather than relying on traditional headache cures. Read on to learn more about some of the potential causes (and treatment options) for a headache that will not seem to go away.
What are some common causes of a chronic headache?
Every individual's pain tolerance is different -- and your specific pain tolerance may vary widely depending upon the amount of sleep you got the previous evening, the types of foods you've been eating, and even your water consumption. As a result, a headache that appears to come and go may actually be a constant presence; you may simply not notice it during a time when your pain tolerance is naturally higher than normal.
One of the first signs of dehydration -- other than thirst -- is often a dull headache. This sensation is actually caused by the shrinking water level within the fluid sac that cushions your brain against impact. As your body begins to extract fluids from various organs and tissues to continue to function normally, your brain, no longer fully protected, may bump up against the inside of your skull. If your headache seems worse after physical activity or tends to throb when you stand after a long period of sitting, you may be dealing with a dehydration headache.
Changes in blood sugar
Many individuals who attribute their post-exercise headaches to physical exertion or dehydration are actually dealing with the physiological changes that can be caused by low blood sugar. When your blood sugar drops below its baseline level, you may feel weak, lethargic, or dizzy. Some people also experience a mild headache that resolves itself after a carbohydrate-containing meal.
By that same token, those with uncontrolled high blood sugar (like those suffering from undiagnosed diabetes or whose diabetes is not well-controlled by diet or insulin) may also experience headaches. If you find that your headaches appear to wax and wane around your meal times, you may be dealing with blood sugar disruptions.
If you spend a lot of your day driving, talking on the phone, or typing in front of a computer, you may eventually develop chronic headaches from the muscle tension that develops in your neck and temples. While self-massage and hot baths can sometimes relieve the immediate tightness in your body, these home care methods might not always be effective against stubborn muscle tension.
How can you treat your headaches?
Once you've discovered the culprit -- or at least narrowed down the potential possibilities -- treating a chronic headache becomes a much easier prospect. Dehydration-based headaches can usually be eradicated permanently simply by increasing your regular water intake. In order to get into the habit of drinking more water, you may want to set an hourly reminder on your phone or keep a refillable water bottle at your desk so that you'll be able to sip on it throughout the day.
Headaches caused by low blood sugar can be slightly more difficult to treat. The successful management of these types of headaches will depend on keeping your blood sugar levels within the normal range. Even if you don't have diabetes, you may want to purchase a home glucose monitor and some test strips designed for diabetic patients -- this will allow you to test your blood sugar before and after meals to determine which foods cause it to spike and how long it takes for your levels to dip low enough to cause a headache. After a few weeks of regular testing and balanced meals, you should be well on your way to a headache-free life.
For chronic tension headaches, a trip to the chiropractor may provide you with long-lasting relief. By manipulating your neck and upper spine to properly align your vertebrae, the chiropractor should be able to relieve immediate tension while placing your spine in a position that will diminish the impact of your daily activity on the spinal and neck muscles. Following your initial chiropractic adjustment, you may opt for periodic maintenance adjustments on a regular schedule or simply make an appointment each time you notice your headaches recurring.