Everyone gets headaches but there is one key factor that dramatically increases the risk: being a woman.
Statistically women are infinitely more likely than men to suffer from virtually every form of headache there is.
According to The Migraine Trust charity, they are, for example, three times more likely than men to have migraines — which as well as causing throbbing pain can bring other symptoms, such as visual disturbances or nausea.
Women are also more likely to develop tension headache, the most common form, felt as an ache all over the head and pressure behind the eyes.
Women Have More ‘Excitable’ Brains
One reason women are more prone to migraine especially could be the way their brains behave.
Migraines are thought to begin with a rush of ‘excitability’ that leads to a cortical spreading depression (CSD) — a flurry of abnormal cell activity that passes like a wave across the brain.
Jaw Muscles Tire More Easily
An often-overlooked cause of headaches is the tendency to grind and clench teeth at night.
Obviously men may grind their teeth, too, but they tend to develop worn teeth as a result, while women are more likely to develop pain in the muscles around the jaw and headaches, according to Kate Stokes, a Worcestershire dentist with a special interest in jaw problems.
That Time Of The Month
Half of the women with migraine have so-called menstrual migraines, meaning their symptoms follow their menstrual cycle.
‘Most of the differences between men and women’s risk of headaches lies with the female hormones linked to the menstrual cycle,’ says Anne MacGregor, a professor at the Centre for Neuroscience and Trauma at Barts.
Women Evolved To Have Headaches
The tendency to have migraines can be inherited, and the migraine gene has more impact on women than men.
‘The migraine genes are expressed more implicitly in women,’ says Dr Fayyaz Ahmed, a consultant neurologist at Hull Royal Infirmary.
That means women born with the gene are more likely to have migraines then men born with it.
They Take Too Many Pills
Women are up to four times more likely than men to develop headaches caused by the overuse of painkillers.
These develop with persistent use of over-the-counter or prescription pain-relief medicine.
One theory is that regular use of painkillers suppresses pain sensors in the brain and the sensitivity of nerves there, so when there is a break in medication, a headache develops.
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