Who knew that pizza or TV viewing could trigger a headache? Headaches have numerous causes and can be triggered by such things as certain foods or skipping meals, hormonal changes, light and excessive noise, weather and stress. Headache triggers are different for everyone, but you can identify your personal trigger to help prevent a headache.

It’s not uncommon for an individual to suffer from more than one type of headache. The most common type is a tension headache. Other familiar types might include sinus, cluster and migraine headaches. More than 29.5 million Americans suffer from migraines, with women being affected three times more often than men. Migraines are often misdiagnosed as a sinus headache or a tension-type headache. Headaches, especially migraines, have a tendency to run in families.

Preventing common types of headaches can be a lot easier than treating one. Keep a journal to monitor your headaches and possible triggers. The following are tips for preventing headaches:

  • Aim for regular sleep, even on the weekends. Try to get at least six to eight hours per night. Lack of sleep and too much sleep may trigger a headache.
  • Reduce tension and stress in your life. Stress hormones can alter the level of chemicals in the brain, which may contribute to headaches. Grinding your teeth or stiffening your shoulders in response to stress, may only make your headaches worse. Practice relaxation, such as deep-breathing exercises. Apply heat or ice to soothe sore neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Get a healthy amount of exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. Stick to exercise and activities which make you feel good and reduce stress.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking negatively affects the way your veins dilate and circulates blood to your muscles. Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, a known headache trigger.
  • Drink plenty of water. Most Americans suffer from mild dehydration and don’t even know it. Aim for eight 8-ounce glasses a day to keep dehydration and headaches at bay.
  • Learn to stretch your neck and upper body properly, especially if you sit at a desk, work in front of a computer or behind the wheel. Also remember to maintain good posture.
  • Avoid too much caffeine. More than two 8-ounce cups of coffee daily may trigger a headache. • Watch what you eat and drink, and don’t skip meals. Dietary triggers are different for everybody, but they may include aspartame, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, cultured dairy products, dried fruits, cheese, smoked or dried fish, canned soups, MSG (a food additive), and aged, canned, cured, or processed meats.

Frequent headaches can interfere with your work and life. Some natural remedies, like Acupuncture and Biofeedback, may help control headaches. There is some evidence that taking ginger at the first sign of a headache may reduce pain, as it contains a small amount of antihistamine and anti-inflammatory action. Talk to your doctor about headache prevention and pain management.

Serious causes of headaches are rare and sometimes headaches warn of a more serious disorder. Let your health care provider know if you have sudden, severe headaches. Get medical help right away if you have a headache after a blow to your head, or if you have a headache along with a stiff neck, fever, confusion, loss of consciousness or pain in the eye or ear.

Sources: MedLine Plus, National Headache Foundation, LifeWork Strategies, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers. For additional information, consult your physician.