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Updated on May 15, 2013


It is just 20 years ago that my then brother in law awoke with a headache. A fit, Physical Education teacher, he attempted to shrug it off but as the day wore on it increased in intensity. His wife, a trained nurse administered to him and he retired to a darkened bedroom to seek some sleep and for the pains and aches to subside.

However, far from relaxing they intensified and the GP was called in. His diagnosis was one of uncertainty but with decisive action he sent my brother in law to Hospital by ambulance. My son rang me to tell me of what had happened and that he was en route to the Hospital to see his uncle. Two hours later he rang with more worrying news. He had just witnessed his uncle rushed on a trolley to an operating theatre and looking in a very poor state.

Richard died shortly afterwards, the victim , it transpired, of a rapidly escalating tumour that effectively rose up and around his brain till he passed away. It was a harrowing time for the family as a 40 year old fit and active man was snatched away from them due to circumstances that were completly unexpected.

It transpired that previously he had experienced some minor headaches but, like most of us, he took these symptoms to be just minor irritations that were of no lasting consequence. In his case it is unlikely that earlier action would have lead to a different outcome, but in medicine, diagnosis is everything and an early discovery may just have saved him. We shall never know if that would have been the case but the tragic event raised awareness for our family in being more carefull about the common headache, which until then was taken for granted as one of life"s littler problems.



Headaches are often caused by tension and can kick off due to anxieties, tiredness and even dehydration, the latter often the result of taking in too much alcohol at one sitting. Most of us recognise these types of headaches and reach for the paracetemol or like tablets.. Some turn to natural aids as simple as taking in water to compensate for dehydration, whilst others take in Haomeopathic treatments now commonly available . Effectively, symptoms are usually dealt with within a few hours and things return to normal as the tightness around the head is released.

Some headaches add other symptoms to the ones above. For example, a dryness and ache in the eyes as well as the tightness in the head. These symptoms are often associated with concentration being expended over time on matters such as computer use. It is known that those who use computers daily in work for long periods can suffer from thaese types of headache. It is identified that when staring at the screen, we blink less and thus increase dryness in the eyes. Breaking away briefly from the computer screen every half hour or so is highly recommended. The same goes for children who play computer games for long periods. A secondary cause in this area is because of poor posture positioning when using computers which can be transmitted into a headache. The spine is an "S" shaped unit and it is important to allow it to be in that shape as much as possible to avoid complaints.

The most severe of headache symptoms are those that affect one eye, and are known as cluster headaches as this is how the pain manifests itself, often adding a watering of the eyes and a runny nose. These types of headaches may respond to pain relief treatments like Brufen, for example, but often the GP will send the patient to a neuroligist. It is likely then that a brain scan will take place, following which specialised treatment with blockers and steroids will be administered. Looking back to Richard, we wonder if he had been able to be diagnosed earlier and had this type of treatment, whether the march of the tumour could have been arrested in time,

Bearing that in mind, we are now aware of things to look out for that raise the need to seek professional medical assessment immediately. These "trigger points" are not rocket science but well worth knowing for reference purposes:

1. A head pain which wakes up the sufferer in the night is worth consulting a GP about.

2. Check family history to see if there are examples of head pains. In our family case, it is key, because of Richard that any such pains are closely monitored.

3. People over say, 50 years of age should take special note and take appropriate action if headache symptoms develop.

4. Any loss of vision, double vision, speech problem or weakness in the limbs need swift action. Possible causes could be stroke or TIA and fast action is vital if this is the case.

Finally, plain common sense from the sufferer is required. As was said at the start, we all know what a headache is but if you experience a headache stronger than ever you have had previously, it is a sure sign that professional medical advice is required.Let it be remembered however, that millions of headaches occur annually and most are dealt with easily and are removed without drama. The information now supplied is to enable recognition of those that may be outside the norm, of which there are far less than a million each year.


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