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Endless headaches could be a sign of mental illness

 Endless headaches require examination and treatment (Image: Shutterstock)

Many Kenyans manage headaches with painkillers and gulping gallons of water. But experts warn that persistent headaches might be a symptom of mental illness, which requires examination and treatment.

There are three types of headache disorders: migraine, Cluster Headache (CH) and medication overuse.

Dr Edith Kwobah, a consultant psychiatrist at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, and a lecturer, explains that depression and anxiety can present with somatic symptoms, which include headache.

Somatic symptom disorders, she says, are characterised by an extreme focus on physical symptoms; for example, pain and fatigue that cause emotional distress.

“People experience headaches often,” says Dr Kwobah, “but persistent headaches could be a sign of mental illnesses.”

There are also chronic headaches, distressed people, tension headaches and migraines that have a strong association with one’s psychological state.

People with sleeping problems, burn-out and chronic fatigue syndrome also get headaches, which are also caused by stress, dehydration, infections and dental issues. Other causes are systemic problems from trauma, injury in the head and anxiety disorders.

Dr Kwobah warns that people should be cautious of persistent headaches that are investigated through CT-Scan and MRI, as brain tumors, seizures and other chronic infections can also present with headaches.

Dr George Biketi, a general practitioner, says a headache is pain manifested through the head, which is not a disease.

He says “the initial cause of headache is the disease” and the headache is a symptom of underlying health problems.

Dr Biketi advises that people seek medical attention for persistent headaches.

“Specific site of the headache, timing, duration and severity determine the type of treatment to be given to a patient,” he said.

“Doctors check blood pressure, head injuries and with examination advise on CT Scan of the head as such can be due to tumour or blood clot.”

CT Scan findings have had some patients being referred for neurosurgery while those headaches whose cause is anxiety are referred to therapists and psychiatrists.

“If headache is vascular linked, for example blood pressure, patients are given painkillers,” said Biketi, adding that a patient’s history, laboratory and clinical results can reveal cause of most headaches.

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