SICK-HEADACHE : ITS CAUSE AND CURE
BY A. J. SANDERSON, M. D.
As the head is the great center of the nervous system, and through it of the entire body, it necessarily becomes the important seat of government for all the activities of life. The constant and arduous work that it performs, together with the close relation it has to every healthy or unhealthy tissue of the body, peculiarly exposes it to trouble. It, perhaps, more often than any other part of the body, becomes the seat of pain.
Sick-headaches are common and varied in nature, and arise from numerous causes. The following suggestions as to cause and cure can deal with the subject but briefly, yet we trust that the explanation may be practical to our readers.
Varieties. — Headaches may be classified according to location, as frontal, occipital, parietal, temporal, or diffuse, according as the seat of pain is in the front, back, top, or side of the head, the last being a general pain affecting all parts alike. Headache frequently attacks one side of the head only, or the pain may pass from one side to the other. The pain may be throbbing or dull, while at times it is only a steady pressure or a compressed feeling. In other cases it is merely a burning sensation; in some severer cases, the sufferer describes the pain as boring; or there may be a feeling of tightness or constriction about a portion of the head.
Each special variety of headache rises from one of the varied classes of causes, and must be treated accordingly.
Causes. — We must look for the source of the pain, either in the nature of the morbid activity that is going on in the brain tissue itself, or in some tissue or organ that is closely related to it by contact or by sensitive nerve filaments. As possible places where the remote cause may be, we should take into consideration the condition of the blood, the eyes, the upper respiratory tract as regards catarrh, the stomach, the bowels as regards regular action, other abdominal organs, especially the liver and kidneys, the pelvic organs, and the nervous system.
The usual manner in which these causes act is either by sending too much blood to the head, by diminishing the blood supply, or by introducing poisonous substances into the blood, producing the toxic headache. In the brain itself the cause may be overwork, especially when it is accompanied by anxiety or worry. ''Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." It is a great sin to operate the human mind without that faith in God which makes one conscious of the fact that it is he who produces the act or thing of which the mental study is the forerunner. Headaches which arise from these causes are usually characterized by a dull pain, general in character, though it may be only frontal. In some cases the pain may become throbbing and intense.
Poisons in the blood may produce headache. This may happen with the drunkard, the tobacco user, or the morphine fiend. These habits produce headache when they are first indulged in, when the poison they give to the blood accumulates, or when the individual is trying to leave them off. The same is true to a less extent of tea and coffee; only the amount of poison in them is so small, and at first it is taken in such limited quantities, that it does not produce the initiatory headache; but the profoundness of the poisoning is indicated by the persistence of the headache when the individual undertakes to leave off their use.
The source of the poison may be some disease in another part of the body. The infection produced by nearly all the acute diseases, including la grippe, so poisons the blood that a severe headache is one of the first and most prominent symptoms. Doubtless by far the most common source of such poisons is the toxic substances absorbed from the alimentary canal. The different forms of dyspepsia, acute indigestion, dilatation of the stomach, constipated and sluggish bowels, all give rise to fermentation, the products of which are as actually poison to the nerves and tissues, as are the drunkard's tips, the source of which is a similar fermentation, only outside of the body. These headaches are commonly frontal, but may be occipital or general. At first there is simply a dull, heavy pain; but gradually it may become deep seated and severe.
Pain which originates from the eyes is usually manifest by recurrence whenever the eyes are placed on a long and steady strain. All such cases should, receive the attention of an oculist.
A dull, persistent frontal headache in some cases arises from catarrhal difficulties of the upper air-passages, and should be prescribed for by one competent to judge as to the condition.
Another class of headaches is due to the persistent uric acid and other poisonous products in the blood.
They usually occur in people of sedentary habits, who are "high livers" or "heavy eaters," especially when, their diet is composed largely of flesh-foods. Headaches may also be caused in a simple reflex way by the stomach, as when a person, with an irritable stomach has a headache upon passing the time of the regular meal without food.
When due to diseases of the intestines, liver, or kidneys, headache is caused by the poisons retained in the blood by the faulty action of these organs. The special organ at fault can be ascertained by carefully observing the accompanying symptoms.
Headaches caused by a diseased condition of the nervous system may be spoken of briefly as belonging to two classes: first, those accompanied by symptoms of exhaustion with prostration; and secondly, when there is pain in the head produced by nerve excitation, as in the case of persons suffering from neurasthenia, hysteria, and similar diseases. With the first class the headache is anemic and reverse in nature. It is either frontal or diffused, and is often accompanied by a sensation of pressure. The second class is often severe, but changeable in character and location, at times accompanied with a steady ache at the back of the neck or head. It may be of periodical occurrence.
Treatment. — The sufferer from sick-headache should first determine the cause of the pain; this once found, the remedy is to remove it. Rest for the over-worked brain, faith for the anxious one, the stimulus of a God-inspired purpose to the unused mind, and the consciousness of right doing are means which will safeguard as well as cure many an aching head.
Poisons have no antidote; they must be removed from the system.
When the trouble is with the alimentary canal, the diet must be simplified and regulated. Most of the mischief arises from fermentation and decomposition. This is avoided by not taking mixtures of food which, when kept in a warm place outside of the body, become sour in a few hours. For temporary relief, flushing of the bowels and washing of the stomach are much better measures than antidotes or the suffering of a three-days' sick-headache till nature has had time to rid herself of it by the eliminative organs.
As measures for immediate relief of anemic headaches and those due to exhausted conditions, heat should be applied to the head by the use of fomentations or other hot applications. Gentle sponging about the neck and sides of the head with a soft towel wrung from boiling water is a measure that has relieved like magic many severe headaches of this class. For the congested, throbbing headache, the opposite is necessary; cool to the head and warm to the body. Cool cloths to the forehead, ice-bags to the top of the head or to the back of the neck, cool sponging in place of hot, as described above, are measures well adapted to different cases. If necessary, these may be accompanied by the hot foot bath or the hot leg bath or even the warm full bath. The immersing of the entire body in water at a temperature of 98° for twenty minutes will often wonderfully relieve a nervous headache.
If the pain is reflex, the fomentations or hot and cold applications must be applied to the spine, stomach, liver, abdomen, or other seat of the reflex.
The drinking of hot water and the withholding of a meal or two, followed by a fruit or other light diet, is the best measure for the headache that comes from uric acid poisoning in a full-blooded person. The same treatment is applicable to several forms of dyspeptic headache.
We do not say that these simple measures will relieve every case at once; but even if they do not, one is not justified in resorting to the popular headache powders of the day,— acetanilid, antipyrin, phenacetin, etc., all of which are coal-tar products, and are dangerous. The coroner of one of our large cities recently pronounced these powders to be the cause of a death, it being the fifth case which had occurred in his city. Many similar cases are reported everywhere, and they should be a warning against the use of these products.