Headache is one of the commonest ills of the present day. Few women go through life without knowing the meaning of headache from personal experience. The pain may be occasional, and apparently due to fatigue. On the other hand, many women complain frequently of headaches, which may be so severe as to interfere with their work and enjoyment of life.
In the vast majority of cases such people suffer a useless and needless martyrdom. Their headaches are curable, or, what is better still, preventable. In certain instances, of course, headache may be due to some serious affection which requires medical care and treatment. But we speak here of the everyday headache which exists in association with good health. People sometimes suffer from headache for years, and never dream of trying to find out the cause of it. In the majority of cases they content themselves with treating the pain, and are quite satisfied if they get rid of the headache for the time being by some anodyne drug.
The first thing the headache martyr should try to understand is that the pain is not an evil, but a good thing, because it is Nature's warning that something is wrong which requires to be put right. By stilling the pain you are only shutting your eyes to the fact that some part of the mechanism of the body is out of gear, and you may have to pay the penalty later on in a health breakdown. The headache may be an evidence that you are disregarding some of the common-sense laws of health which were enumerated in the first article of this series (see page 54). The woman who suffers from headache should ask herself if she takes too little exercise or too many meals? Does she like comfortable lunches, and dinners of several courses? Does she eat libe rally of pastries, sweets, rechaufrees, and indulge herself in too much tea in the early morning, followed by a good breakfast an hour later? A great many women and girls are headachy and out of sorts because they live too sedentary a life. They cannot dispose of the food they consume, because there is not sufficient outlet for mental and bodily energy. The people who overeat and underwork are bound to pay the penalty in disordered health, the commonest evidence of which is headache.
There are three main causes of common headache: I, nerve-strain; 2, eye-strain; 3, headache due to the presence of toxines in the blood
It is said that nervous headaches have increased in number during the last few years. This hustling age entails a good deal of strain to young and old, and even the children suffer from school headache, due to pressure in education and overstrain at school. The college girl is apt to develop nervous headaches if she is working for examinations beyond her strength. Competition is very keen, and high-school and college curriculums are so varied nowadays that excessive mental work is often called for which may have serious results with regard to health.
When the senior schoolgirl or college student complains of headache, it should be taken as an evidence of mental strain, which ought to be corrected by decreasing the hours of study and providing more rest. Nerve-strain also is the cause of the headaches of the business girl and professional woman, who are very apt to get into a state of mental strain and tension over their work. In such cases headache is often due, not to the actual work, but to the sense of worry associated with it. They try to do their work at express speed, and allow a sense of rush and hurry to grip them, so that their whole being is at high tension. The result is " nervous eheadach which they probably ascribe to overwork, when the real cause is worry. Excessive gaiety, numerous engagements, and a strenuous social life account for a certain number of headaches of the same type amongst women who work hard to amuse themselves.
So, if you suffer from headache, ask yourself whether your pain is due to strain and stress on your nervous system. It is the highly strung woman who is susceptible to this type of headache; the girl whose nerves are sensitive, who is imaginative, keen, enthusiastic, and eager to get the most out of life. To this type also the temptation to take drugs is very great, and ought to be sternly resisted. The only rational cure for overstrained nerves is rest and better regulation of the daily life. Granted that you have to work hard, you can certainly reduce the strain of work by the introduction of method. It is wonderful what an amount of hard work can be accomplished without danger to health so long as the work is not done under pressure. The simple expedient of getting up an hour earlier in the morning may prevent the necessity for rush and worry. At the same time a brief midday rest and a couple of hours earlier in bed at night should be tried for a month.
"Picture Gallery" or "Academy" headache is another example of headache due to nerve-strain, with, perhaps, some degree of eye-fatigue in addition. The nervous headache of neurasthenia is only nervous headache at a later stage, whilst the headache which comes on in a thunderstorm, or under emotional stress, should be included in this same group.
The great point is that nervous headaches are preventable by commonsense regulation and attention to the elementary laws of health.
The second great cause of headache is what doctors call toxaemia. It is due to the circulation of poisons in the blood, very often from some-disturbance of the digestive organs. An example of this type of headache is seen in influenza and other fevers, whilst the headache of alcohol is also due to the toxic condition of the blood. Morning headache is, in the vast majority of cases, the result of poisoned blood. If one sleeps in a room with closed doors and windows for eight consecutive hours, poisons gradually accumulate in the blood, which circulate through the brain, causing irritation of the central nervous system and headache. The vast majority of toxic headaches, however, are due to digestive errors and erratic eating. Anything causing indigestion, such as overeating, bolting of food, bad teeth, may produce headache due to the presence of toxines in the blood. Toxines are constantly being formed to a certain extent in the digestive canal, but in indigestion they are formed in excess, and cannot be got rid of quickly enough. They are absorbed into the blood, causing what the doctors call "high blood pressure," which produces a general feeling of ill-health, headache, and irritability of temper.