Chronic Headache Coincides with Depression Risk
> 1/12/2007 3:02:55 PM

Beyond the occasional pains wrought by physical stress, lack of sleepor genetics, millions currently suffer from chronic headaches, andthose who do are considerably more likely to report psychosomatic illness and major recurring depression, particularly if they are women.

Unlike migraine headaches, which are closely related but generally more severe and less frequent, chronic tension headachescan affect patients more than fifteen days a month for at least threemonths, and they can persist over periods anywhere from thirty minutesto several days in length. Most report that the pain, though usuallymild, begins soon after rising and lasts throughout the day. Whileresearchers once believed these headaches to be caused by literalbuildup of tension in the muscles of the face, scalp and neck, they nowlabel such explanations inaccurate. The most likely source of theseheadaches is a significant shift in the line of communication betweenthe same chemical elements responsible for changes in mood, anxiety,and physical readiness: serotonin and the various endorphins with whichit interacts. They were, in fact, once referred to as psychogenic ordepression headaches. Also involved is nitric oxide,a chemical involved in the transmission of nerve impulses. Persistentanxiety can lead to the overproduction of this free radical.

The most common victims of chronic headache syndrome are women with inordinate amounts of lifestyle stress:the poorly educated or financially unstable, single or working parentsand drug abusers. Those who report the condition are almost four timesas likely to suffer from depression and an array of independentphysical symptoms:

"People with chronic headaches tend to have a lot of...somaticcomplaints," such as irritable bowel, pelvic pain and fibromyalgia...The study results indicate that the coexistence of theseconditions dramatically increases the risk of depression.

Other outside stressors that may contribute to chronic tensionheadache include: irregular eating habits, poor posture, insomnia,physical inactivity and, less commonly, complications stemming from themenstrual cycle. The condition itself can further social and emotionalinstability: among groups of people with common sources of stress,those with tension headache are more likely to adopt an overly negativeview of their circumstances and less likely to develop effective copingmethods. Occasional tension headaches are so common that many patientssimply take an over-the-counter pain killer and refrain from visiting adoctor to address the problem, but the longer it continues, the morelikely it is a chronic condition which will improve only under some form of treatment,be it regular exercise and posture correction, specialized medicine, orrelaxation techniques such as yoga, acupuncture and massage therapy. Ifyou or anyone you know suffers from serious headaches  that occur everyother day or more and threaten to disrupt other activities, a visit tothe clinician should be seriously considered.


I'm curious whether these chronic headaches have been identified as occurring unilaterally, thus mimicking a characteristic that can be a differentiating factor between migraine and other types of headaches. I typically use up all my sick days at work before the end of February due to what I understand to be migraines; however, they are certainly exacerbated by stress. I wake up with them, and they can last several hours to a couple of days or more.
Posted by: kathy 1/19/2007 8:58:19 AM

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