What you should know about Low-Pressure and High-Pressure Headaches

What you should know about Low-Pressure and High-Pressure Headaches


Nearly everyone gets a headache every now and then. For some people, however, headaches are inconvenient or maybe unbearable part of their lives.

Headache is the symptom of pain anywhere in the region of your head or neck. Basically, it occurs in tension-type headaches, migraines (sharp, or throbbing pains), and cluster headaches. Treatment of a headache depends on the basic cause, but usually, it involves pain medication.

A number of different conditions can cause a sense of pressure, tightness, or weight in the head which we call a headache. The intensity of this pain generally ranges from mild to severe. It often feels like a constricted tough band around your head region.

During a headache, the pain you feel comes from a combination of signals between your blood vessels, brain, and nearby nerves.  Specific nerves in head muscles and blood vessels switch on during headache and send pain signals to your brain. But still, it is unclear how these signals get turned on in the first place.

In case you get regular headaches, it is vital to consult with your physician to reveal the cause and try to find out how to treat it. But that’s not easy always because there are several things which can cause headaches. Like, eating ice cream too hastily, stroke or other severe conditions.

Basically, two types of headaches are caused by a change of pressure inside your skull. These are;

  • Low-pressure headaches (Spontaneous Intracranial Hypotension, or SIH)
  • High-pressure headaches (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension, or IIH)

Low-Pressure Headaches (SIH)

A low-pressure headache usually gets worse when you sit or stand. But it is not that much severe and can get better if you lie down. It may start at the back of your head, sometimes with neck pain. It gets worse with coughing, sneezing, and physical exertion. A low-pressure headache can come with;

  • Ringing in your ears
  • Muffled hearing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Sometimes, you might feel intense pain, throbbing, or just overall pressure in the head. SIH is uncommon and it can affect anybody of any age.

Causes; the basic cause of SIH is leakage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Although the leak is generally in your spine, not skull. CSF is the “cushioning” fluid which protects your spine and brain.

Diagnosis; only your physician will examine it carefully. For that purpose, your doctor may do MRI and CT scans to comprehend what’s going on. Diagnosis may also involve measurement of your CSF pressure which can be done by putting a needle in your back near your spine. Some specialists believe that might not benefit low-pressure headaches that much.

Treatment; Symptoms of low-pressure headaches may go away by themselves. Sometimes, taking rest, drinking lots of water, and caffeine may help relieve the pain.

A common treatment called an epidural blood patch tries to stop your CSF leak. For this, Blood is taken from your arm and then injected into your spinal canal to “patch” the leak. This treatment may not be effective for the first time as the actual spot where the CSF leaks are tough to find. So, you may have to go through the process several times. In that case, your doctor may also prescribe you a medicine called theophylline.

High-Pressure Headaches (IIH)

The symptoms of a high-pressure headache may mimic those of a brain tumor. This is the reason why IIH used to be called “pseudotumor cerebri,” or “false brain tumor.” Those signs or symptoms of IIH include;

  • Migraine-like or throbbing pain, usually worse in the morning
  • Shoulder and neck pain
  • Headaches which get worse with coughing, sneezing, or exertion
  • Severe headaches which last for a long time
  • Changes in vision
  • Ringing in the ears

High-pressure headache is rare. Around 100,000 Americans have it. Most of them are obese women of childbearing age.

Causes; it is caused by higher pressure in your skull from too much Cerebrospinal Fluid.  The main reason is obesity. But some medications — comprising tetracycline, steroids, growth hormone, even too much vitamin A — can also cause it.

Diagnosis; after a medical history, your doctor will perhaps ask for MRI and CT scans to help figure things out. You may also have some different kinds of vision tests. IIH nearly always puts severe pressure on your optic nerve. Thus, leading to swelling called papilledema. This swelling can critically affect your vision. It can also lead to blindness if not caught in time.

Your doctor will test your CSF pressure by giving you a spinal tap. They may also call it lumbar puncture. In this procedure, a needle is inserted between two vertebrae in the lower back. Then, a tube called a manometer measures the pressure.

Treatment; the best and most appropriate way to ease the IIH effects is to lose weight. It will lower the pressure on your brain and optic nerve. But severely obese individuals may need weight loss surgery. The research found that even modest weight loss of 5%-10% — done through a healthy eating, workout, and reducing salt consumption — can ease your symptoms.

During treatment, complete vision testing should be done regularly. It helps to keep an eye on pressure on your optic nerve. In some cases, a medicine called acetazolamide is used to cut back on your production of CSF. In more severe cases, there may be a need for surgery to ease the pressure on your brain. Eye surgery is also another possibility.

Home remedies

Rapid treatment for headaches relating to high or low pressure is vital to decrease a person’s symptoms and lessen the risk of side effects.

You can also take a number of following steps to reduce the risk of headaches and to ease the stabbing pain if they do occur;

  1. Apply an ice pack or heat pack to your neck or head. But make sure to avoid extreme temperatures.
  2. Try to avoid stressors. Furthermore, develop healthy managing strategies for inevitable stress.
  3. Eat regular and healthy meals, take care to maintain your stable blood sugar.

A hot shower can also help in some cases, though in one rare condition hot water exposure can generate headaches. Regular exercise, enough rest and regular sleep also contributes to your overall health and help in stress reduction.

Furthermore, most headaches are not an indication that something more is wrong. But in case your headaches are extreme and happen often, there are certain things a doctor can do. Like he can recommend you changes in your diet plan and prescribe you certain medicine. Hence, you don’t have to put up with the pain!




The author is a Medical Microbiologist and healthcare writer. She is a post-graduate of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. She covers all content on health and wellness including weight loss, nutrition, and general health. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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