Dubai Health Authority (DHA) is planning to conduct a study to assess the prevalence of headaches, their severity and the impact they have on different aspects of life.
DHA’s Neurology Department at Rashid Hospital is in charge of the research. “This research is important because studies on the prevalence of headaches and their burden in Dubai are limited,” explains Dr Abu Bakr Al Madani, Head of Neurology Department at Rashid Hospital. “We will conduct a field study and surveyors will randomly select the sample and present a questionnaire on headaches. It will take approximately 20 minutes and we request the community to co-operate with us.
“Research is an extremely important tool in healthcare as it helps us understand diseases and their underlying causes better and we can devise policies and plans in an evidence-based manner.”
Rashid Hospital’s neurology department sees approximately 150 to 200 patients a week for headache-related issues, which is 40 per cent of all cases the department receives.
Dr Al Madani says headaches are divided into two categories: primary and secondary. A primary headache is not a symptom of an underlying disease but is caused by over activity of pain-sensitive structures in the head.
Dr Maria Pires, Neurologist at Rashid Hospital, adds that migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headaches fall under the category of primary headaches. “In the case of migraines, patients should be aware [of the] triggers. These differ from person to person. For example; for some patients, coffee and chocolate are triggers that can cause headaches but for others, it can actually help relieve the migraine.
“Therefore, awareness of one’s body helps tackle migraines. Stress, sleep deprivation and excessive work load can also trigger a migraine.”
Dr Pires says that tension-type headache is the other type of primary headache. “The triggers for primary headaches can be certain foods, such as processed meats that contain tyramine, lack of sleep, skipped meals, changes in weather and stress.”
When to seek a professional help
Dr Al Madani says that secondary headaches need investigation as they occur due to underlying health problems.
“If the headache is accompanied by [symptoms such as] loss of consciousness, jerky movements, blurry vision and sensory abnormality, the person should immediately visit the hospital because these are symptoms of something acute such as bleeding in the brain.”
The causes of secondary headache are varied and can be due to a blood clot within the brain, abnormal formation of brain blood vessels, concussion, acute sinusitis, ear infection, glaucoma, influenza, meningitis and more.
Dr Wafaa Ayesh, Director of Nutrition at DHA says that food can also trigger headaches. “Processed foods, additives, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, chocolate, cheese and grapes are foods that can trigger migraines.
“Certain fragrances such as perfumes or peculiar smells such as onion and garlic smell can also act as triggers. The triggers vary for each individual and therefore we ask patients to be alert so that they understand their own triggers and avoid those.
“If a patient feels that any particular food may be a headache trigger, it is best to remove it from their diet. If the patient reintroduces it to their diet and the headaches return, then it is a real trigger.”