In a survival situation, you can bet that you’ll be dealing with a lot of headaches, both metaphorical and physical. If you ever had to deal with a severe headache, you know how it can affect your work efficiency. In hard times, you’ll have to be at 110% efficiency just performing the activities of daily survival and headache prevention is important to consider.
Headaches, and especially migraines, can be debilitating. There are many different types of headaches, and knowing what type you are suffering from will help determine your treatment options.
The basic two classifications of headaches are “primary” and “secondary”. A primary headache occurs for unknown reasons, while a secondary headache is caused by an underlying disease process.
Primary headaches include:
- Tension Headaches
- Cluster Headaches
- Facial headaches (also called “trigeminal”)
- Headaches caused by exertion of some sort
Primary headaches are usually not life-threatening, although they can certainly be debilitating. Headache prevention strategies can usually alleviate the pain and often eliminate the headache itself.
Secondary headaches are more dangerous due to their cause, not the symptoms. These include headaches due to:
- Neck or head injury
- Hematoma (blood collection in or near the brain)
- Complication of surgery to the area
- Abnormal blood vessel formations
- Seizure disorders
- Central nervous system infections, like meningitis
- Abnormal spinal fluid pressure
Symptoms that give a hint that something serious may be going on include:
1. A new or different type of headache
2. Headaches in the elderly
3. Sudden onset headaches
4. Visual loss or abnormalities
5. Mental confusion
6. Inability or difficulty to move a part of the body
7. Being woken up suddenly from sleep by sudden pain
8. Pain that worsens with movement of the head
9. Jaw pain that resolves when chewing is finished
10. Neck stiffness
Preventing primary headaches
This article will focus on the prevention of primary headaches. We will discuss identification of the different types and treatment in the near future. Remember our disclaimer: If modern medicine exists, seek help from qualified professionals.
Prevention should be the primary goal of the survival medic, as it saves headaches, literally and figuratively, for you and your patient later on. There are many possible actions you can take to help prevent a headache. Some may work for you, but each person is a unique individual. Even following all prevention measures could fail to work for some.
Number one on the prevention list is stress reduction, but perhaps it should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list anyway! Stress is a powerful negative energy and the wreckage it plays with our bodies will probably never be fully understood. Don’t focus on what you can’t control. Plan and act now to change the things you can.
Re-appraise negative events, as there may be a silver lining somewhere in that black cloud. Re-interpret what happened in a way that might be less negative. Those who can do this have a better sense of physical and mental well-being, according to a study performed by Columbia University.
Learn relaxation techniques for when the world is pressing down upon your shoulders like a giant elephant and you want to scream like a crazy person (although screaming for a few seconds can be a release of stress, just don’t do it in front of the TSA!).
Here is a list of other general headache/migraine prevention suggestions:
1. Avoid allergens
2. Drink lots of water
3. Don’t skip meals
4. Reduce caffeine
5. Reduce salt intake
6. Get at least 8 hours of sleep
7. Increase potassium
8. Limit sweets
9. Try a gluten-free diet
10. Limit alcohol intake
11. Avoid smoke and environmental pollution
12. Take a multi-vitamin supplement, such as vitamin B complex
13. Take a magnesium supplement of 200-300mg twice a day
14. Eat or take fish oil 3-4 grams per day with meals, or increase Omega-3 rich foods
15. Try ginkgo extract at 120/mg total, divided into 2-3 doses per day
16. Try dried feverfew leaves 125mg daily
Common food triggers
Let’s discuss some of the above in further detail. If you are aware of any food or environmental allergens, avoid them as much as possible. Common headache food triggers are:
- Dairy products
- Wheat (consider a gluten-free diet)
- Citrus fruits
- Red meat
Make it a daily habit to drink lots of water. Dehydration can cause headaches and increasing your fluid intake may prevent or could alleviate the pain. In a disaster or collapse situation, water will become Number One. Make sure you have identified your sources of water and know how to perform filtration, purification and sterilization methods.
Another issue in times of trouble may be adequate nutritional intake. For now, make sure you are eating healthy protein-rich foods to maintain a normal weight for your height and age. If you are trying to lose weight, eating small portions of this kind of food may help reduce headaches and also the issues of dizziness and mood swings. Severe caloric restriction can cause headaches, so don’t skip meals.
Caffeine is a trigger for some individuals on the extreme ends of the spectrum. If you like your daily 3 cups or more of coffee and suddenly stop, you could trigger a headache. On the other hand if your diet is very low in caffeine and you ingest it, this could trigger a headache. (Note: If you are reducing caffeine intake, take it slowly and don’t just go cold turkey).
Water retention, or swelling caused by either excessive salt intake or even hormonal imbalances may cause headaches. Try to reduce your salt intake and increase water intake to help flush out the salt. Some medical conditions, however, cause swelling that is not corrected by reducing salt intake and too much fluid intake can be harmful. Knowing your body, your health status and how to keep yourself healthy is vital, especially if there may be a time when your doctor is NOT around.
Potassium is the nemesis of sodium, raise one and the other gets lowered. Since sodium retains water, potassium helps your body regulate the water levels to a normal state. Eat natural sources of potassium, such as bananas, carrots, asparagus, grapes, cauliflower, potatoes, etc. Some practitioners may recommend potassium supplements for their patients; always follow medical advice if you have a special condition.
Sugar can be troublesome for some individuals. There is a saying that we crave the foods that are the worst for us. If you notice an increase in headaches related to your sweet treats intake, try a couple of weeks without them and see what happens. It can’t hurt you to decrease your sugar intake, so give it a try. You will likely discover that the less sugar you have in your diet, the less you crave it.
Here is a subject that warrants much more discussion but isn’t the topic of this article, gluten-free diets. Much has been written about the ill effects of wheat in our common American diet. The list is too long to review here, but I will tell you the wheat we are eating today is nothing like our distant ancestors ate. Some say it is absolute poison to our bodies and is related to all kinds of serious health issues, let alone that it could be causing chronic headaches. Again, it can’t hurt you to eliminate gluten from your diet for a few weeks; just make sure you are eating healthily otherwise.
Many people are sensitive or even have allergies to alcohol. Most of us know what happens if you consume too much alcohol in a short period of time. A hangover usually involves a painful, head-pounding headache. Make sure you avoid alcohol if it gives you headaches; reduce your intake if too much triggers one. Drinking water, eating some protein and resting in a dark room can help a hangover. I’m sure a lot of our readers have some great hangover remedies to suggest.
Just as second-hand smoke or smoking can cause a headache, don’t forget about environmental pollution. If you are traveling to a town where the pollution or pollen count is high try to stay indoors and get an air filter system if possible. Some hotels have air-purification units they will place in your room. I have a small one in our bedroom for use during sleep to lower the dust and pollen count.
We have discussed the benefits of healthy eating, but sometimes our diets just don’t meet our daily vitamin requirements. A supplement of a multivitamin may help you meet you body’s needs. Especially helpful to prevent recurring headaches may be vitamin B-complex. Magnesium supplements have been shown to help prevent headaches in some people as well.
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, leafy greens or supplements are vital for numerous normal body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain. Because our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats, we must get them through other means. A study has suggested that Omega-3 supplements can reduce the frequency, severity and duration of headaches. There have been numerous additional health benefits linked to Omega-3 increased intake.
Two herbal supplements to consider are feverfew and ginkgo in the dosages mentioned in the list above. Both of these supplements are meant to be taken as a prevention measure. (Note: Do not use feverfew during pregnancy or breast-feeding.) Clinical experience suggests a four to six week trial to determine if feverfew will help reduce the frequency, severity and duration of your headaches. Ginkgo’s effects may be related to its herbal reputation to thin the blood and “tone” blood vessel walls.
Sleep deprivation is detrimental to health and related to serious medical issues. A study at the University of North Carolina showed 58% of women showed a switch from chronic to infrequent headaches when they began a regular pattern of sleep habits. Establish a routine for sleep and stick to it if possible.
If you learn anything from this article, it is that you may have more control of headaches with some simple healthy life-style changes. In a time where there may be no medications to grab, these could help you live with less pain and allow you to be a healthier and more productive person.
Click here to listen to Nurse Amy’s complete headache tutorial.
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by Amy Alton, A.R.N.P., C.N.M., aka Nurse Amy of www.doomandbloom.net. Invest in their book, The Survival Medicine Handbook, in order to prepare for all types of health and medical scenarios when professional help isn’t available.