A vascular headache describes headaches, including migraines, that are related to the swelling of blood vessels and hyperemia. It is believed that the vascular headache is caused because of abnormal blood vessels or problems with the vascular system.
Types of Vascular Headaches
Migraines normally involve severe pain on one or both sides of the head, an upset stomach and problems with vision.
For "classic migraine" sufferers, it can also include neurological symptoms, such as auras around objects, flashing lights or similar phenomenon. Some may suffer from difficulty with speech, the weakness of an extremity, tingling of the face or hands, and confusion. The pain often involves an intense throbbing around the forehead, eye, temple or ear, or it may be on both sides.
Normally, "common migraines" do not have the aura that is seen in the classic migraine. Common migraines involve mental fuzziness, changes in mood, fatigue, bloating or retention of fluids, diarrhea, and even nausea or vomiting. Toxic headaches are a type of vascular headaches that often produces a fever. Some conditions that might be involved include pneumonia, mumps and tonsillitis.
Vascular Headaches and Swelling of Blood Vessels
The major cause of a vascular headache is when blood vessels expand because they have increased pressure on nerves. This pressure causes an immense pain and compromises the nervous system. A vascular headache has to do with body’s inability to prevent or reduce the inflammation in blood vessels and tissues in the head. The swelling of blood vessels can have a variety of causes or triggers.
Muscle Tension and Vascular Headaches
Tension headaches often involve a stiff neck, fever, convulsions, confusion and lack of consciousness. It often involves discomfort and muscle tightness in the head, neck and scalp. These occur as a result of muscle contractions in the affected areas, but are not associated with structural issues in the brain.
Stress and Vascular Headaches
Some headaches can be a result of increased stress, which is a type of tension headache. Doctors are not sure of the exact cause, but some suspect that changes in brain chemicals might be involved. The way that the body responds to stress involves nerve signals sending down messages to the adrenal glands, which release adrenaline. After being released, adrenaline increases blood sugar levels, heart rate and changes in blood pressure. There is also the release of cortisol, a stress hormone, but if there are elevated levels, can affect the immune system and the health of the brain.
Caffeine and Vascular Headaches
Caffeine can be beneficial or harmful to someone with headaches. In some cases, it can help to relieve the headache or migraine, and in others people respond to the withdrawal from caffeine. Caffeine acts as a stimulant and constricts blood vessels in the brain, as well as release of adrenaline in the body. If someone has a vascular headache, caffeinated products normally ease the pain by shutting down blood vessels.
Pain Medications and Vascular Headaches
If you take pain medication regularly, the withdrawal from medications can cause vascular headache. These affect nerves in the brain to control response to pain. Prescription and non-prescription medications can be involved. Overusing medication, even those meant to prevent or treat migraines, may actually contribute to headaches.
Food and Vascular Headaches
Many foods, lack of food and allergies can trigger headaches. Dehydration also plays a role. Some types of cheese, especially those that are high protein, can cause vascular headaches. Alcohol causes a decrease in blood flow and trigger headaches. Food additives, such as MSG and nitrates, can dilate blood vessels and cause headaches. Some people do not respond well to temperature shifts, which can cause headaches.