Stress, muscular tension, and other triggers can cause a headache, which is a term used to describe pain that occurs in the head, face, mouth, or neck. It is a common symptom; up to 95 percent of people are thought to experience head pain at some point in their lives. Most headaches are not serious and respond well to medications and lifestyle changes. However, some types of head pain are signals of more serious disorders and call for immediate medical attention.
What Is a Headache?A headache is a term used to describe aching or pain that occurs in the head, face, mouth, or neck. It is one of the most common symptoms experienced in today's society. In fact, up to 40 percent of people worldwide are thought to endure at least one severe attack per year. It is also thought that 90 percent of men and 95 percent of women have experienced at least one of them during their lifetimes.
They are such a common complaint that they can almost be considered a normal part of living. It does not matter if you are a child (see Headaches in Children) or are pregnant (see Pregnancy Headaches) -- or whether you live in the country or the city. You have most likely experienced head pain.
Why Do Headaches Hurt?What hurts when you have a headache? The bones of the skull and tissues of the brain itself never hurt because they lack pain-sensitive nerve fibers. Several areas of the head can hurt, including a network of nerves that extends over the scalp and certain nerves in the face, mouth, and throat. Also sensitive to pain (because they contain delicate nerve fibers) are the muscles of the head and blood vessels found along the surface of the brain, as well as at the base of the brain.
The ends of these pain-sensitive nerves, called nociceptors, can be stimulated by stress, muscular tension, dilated blood vessels, and other triggers of headaches. Once stimulated, a nociceptor sends a message up the length of the nerve fiber to the nerve cells in the brain, signaling that a part of the body hurts. The message is determined by the location of the nociceptor. A person who suddenly realizes, "My toe hurts" is responding to nociceptors in the foot that have been stimulated by the stubbing of a toe.
A number of chemicals help transmit pain-related information to the brain. Some of these chemicals are natural, painkilling proteins called endorphins (Greek for "the morphine within"). One theory suggests that people who suffer from severe head pain and other types of chronic pain have lower levels of endorphins than people who are generally pain-free.