Sunday, May 22, 2016

What are the Causes of Cluster Headaches?

Women that have both given birth normally and experienced cluster headaches claim that giving birth hurt less.  But unfortunately, the exact cause of these crippling attacks remains unknown. However, attacks often begin during sleep.

Image: "The Headache" by George Cruikshank (1819)

Cluster or suicide headaches are one of the most painful types of neurological conditions that can happen to a human being.  Women that have both given birth normally and experienced cluster headaches claim that giving birth hurt less.  But unfortunately, the exact cause of these crippling attacks remains unknown.  More research needs to be done in order to determine why some people get cluster headaches and not others.


For an unknown reason, men are far more likely to get cluster headaches than women.  Women aren’t completely lucky because they are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men.  This may have something to do with hormones, but just how they play a part is still unknown. 

Being a black man over the age of twenty that smokes, drinks and has someone else in the family that also suffers from cluster headaches is the most likely person to develop cluster headaches.  Just why is still unknown. 

Theories For Causes

One theory is that people are born with a genetic predisposition for headache problems, including migraines and cluster headaches.  A variety of conditions have to come about in order to trigger a cluster headache attack.  One of these conditions is the brain not being able to properly absorb the neurotransmitter serotonin.  Perhaps not coincidentally, serotonin problems are also thought to be the blame for migraines, major depression and epilepsy.

One major trigger seems to be a lack of oxygen caused by sleep apnea.  Breathing high-flow oxygen has shown to help many patients that suffer from either migraines or cluster headaches. Lack of oxygen may also explain why many attacks begin one or two hours after a patient falls asleep.  The pain becomes so bad it wakes him or her up.

What About Brain Activity?

The Mayo Clinic reports that MRI scans of cluster headache sufferers had significant activity in the parts of their brains known as the hypothalamus.  Just why is, again, unknown.  Could it be the hypothalamus is malformed or have become damaged in some way?  According to Lori K. Sergeant, MD and Michelle Blanda, MD, sometimes people suffering from cluster headaches did have a head injury in their past.  But not all cluster headache sufferers have had head injuries.

Could the rise or drops in natural hormones produced by the body such as melatonin or cortisol?  Again, we just don’t know.


Migraines For Dummies. Diane Stafford and Jennifer Shoquist, MD. For Dummies; 2003.

ABC News. “Oxygen Therapy Can Help Cluster Headaches.” Lauren Cox. December 9, 2009

eMedicine. “Headache, Cluster.” Lori K. Sergeant, MD and Michelle Blanda, MD. May 20, 2010.  

Bed Bugs and Insect Growth Regulators

I wrote this article a few years ago, but the information is still valid. I see that some folks have reprinted it for their blogs without my permission. May you get bed bugs, Scrapers.

The only known IGR for bedbugs is hydroprene

Bedbug infestations are not only creepy, they are expensive to treat. One type of chemical used to kill bedbugs is the insect growth regulator or IGR called hydroprene.

What Is An IGR?

Insect growth regulators or IGRs do not kill insects.  But they can help prevent insect larvae from maturing.  Remember that only the adult phase of many insects such as bedbugs can breed.  If a population stops breeding and no new breeding insects are introduced, eventually the insect population dies out.

IGRs can be used separately, but more often they are combined with pesticides.  But you cannot find IGRs on the store shelf.  These are regulated chemicals, which means that only a licensed exterminator can (or should) get a hold of them and use them. 

Which IGR Is Which?

IGRs can be easily confused.  The same company that manufactures Precor with methoprene, Zo√ęcon, does make an IGR product for bedbugs called Gentrol.  Its IGR ingredient is hydroprene, the only IGR affective against bedbugs, according to Virginia Tech entomologist Dini M. Miller, PhD.  But unfortunately, some exterminators have been reported using methoprene in the belief that it worked like hydroprene.  Also, some people may have done a quick Internet search and picked up information about IGRs and bedbugs from dubious sources.

For example, one major typo on the otherwise highly respected articles by University of Nebraska-Lincoln entomologist Barb Ogg, PhD accidentally states that the brand name Precor is recommended for bedbugs.  Later on in the article, hydroprene is identified as the brand name Gentrol.  However, anyone skimming the article and not taking the time to read the entire thing may mistakenly think Precor is the product they need.  If they have bedbugs, then chances are high that they haven’t had much sleep lately. 

What Does Precor Kill?

Methoprene helps to stop severe flea infestations, not bedbug infestations.  But it cannot be used alone to manage a flea infestation because it cannot infect adult fleas or fleas that are already breeding, only flea larvae and flea eggs.  Since Precor is a combination of methoprene and two pyrethroid insecticides, it should be able to kill the adults, but not before they’ve bred.

Regular vacuuming, laundry and housecleaning can help to reduce both the populations of bedbugs and fleas, but housecleaning does not do the job all by itself.  It needs to be combined with a chemical assault in order to eliminate these two blood-sucking pests.

How Effective Are IGRs against Bedbugs?

IGRs like hydroprene work much better under laboratory conditions than in real world conditions.  As explained by Dini M. Miller, bedbugs are constantly exposed to hydroprene and therefore die in larger numbers.  But how can you guarantee a constant exposure in the home environment?  This can be a problem. 

Miller also notes that some bedbug larvae exposed to hydroprene did survive to adulthood and mated once before they died.  Although they died before their normal lifespan expired, they still were able to breed.  So, do not expect miracles using hydroprene against bedbugs.  It may take more than one application before the bedbugs are gone.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

“Insomnia”; By Stephen King: A Review

I know the book isn't really about insomnia, but I couldn't resist sticking this old review of mine from Helium and Yahoo up here:

At first, it sounded like a great idea.  The master storyteller of weirdness, Stephen King, writing a novel based on one of the weirdest conditions a person can have – insomnia.  However, the result is disappointing.  Only long-time Stephen King fans familiar with his Dark Tower series will find any worthwhile bedtime reading with Insomnia (Viking Press; 1994.)

The Good

A bad book by Stephen King is still a much reader read than a good book by most other pop fiction writers.  Characters are well-drawn to the point where you do not need to be told who is talking in order to know who is talking.  The fictional town of Derry, Maine is also familiar territory for King fans and for anyone who has lived in a small suburb.  The dogs in the book even become fully detailed characters in their own right.

Perhaps the best thing about Insomnia is that it does highlight the problems of domestic abuse without ramming it down the reader’s throat.  Although other issues like abortion, putting parents in old-age homes and insomnia are mentioned, but with as much finesse as King can do on the subject of abuse.  This is a major theme in King’s entire body of work, especially in Dolores Claiborne (1993) and Rose Madder (1995) where both protagonists are abused women.  As always, King shows that not only supernatural creatures are monsters.

The Bad

Insomnia is mostly made up of some good chunks stuck together with long expository passages.  Mainly, it’s a minor book in the Dark Towerseries, even though it was never marketed as part of the series.  However, if the reader is not familiar with the Dark Tower series, then a lot of small, seemingly out of place details in Insomnia is going to be baffling.

The main struggle in the book between good human verses bad Otherworld Creature gets far too long and complicated for even a King fan like yours truly.  When the main reason why our protagonists have insomnia is revealed, it’s an anticlimax.  The answer is just not satisfying enough.

The Ugly

There are some incredibly vivid moments in Insomnia that are far more haunting than the actual plot.  A dog licks the hand of the monster that immediately afterwards kills her.  A mother is plotted against by her daughter-in-law to place her in a senior citizen’s home.  A battered woman with a screaming baby on her hip stumbles into a grocery store.

But the weirdest image is that of a two-person airplane is flown into a building here a major speech is being held and many are killed.  Remember, this book was published in 1994, which, on reflection, makes that particular scene even more bone-chilling. Of course, King probably got the idea from when a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945.

Stephen King in 2007 by Pinguino image from Wikipedia

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Iron Deficiency and Fatigue

When you’re tired all of the time, live becomes very stressful.  It’s hard to concentrate, make decisions or even do simple tasks.  And it’s almost impossible to get any enjoyment out of the tasks you do manage to get done.  If you’re tired all of the time and yet are getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night, you really need to go to the doctor.  Although constant fatigue might not seem like a problem serious enough for the doctor, it is.  It could be all you need is a simple once daily iron supplement.

And, as always, please don’t use this blog post in the place of your doctor’s diagnosis.

 Signs and Symptoms

People who have iron deficiency (and this writer is one of them) tend to know because they’re tired all of the time.  Now, unfortunately, this is also the symptom of more serious issues such as clinical depression (which I also have, which makes things nice and complicated).  So, how did my doctor figure out that I had iron deficiency?  I had these other problems, too:
  • I have very heavy periods
  • I was not having my menopause
  • I’m a tea drinker.  Tea can interfere with iron absorption. So I'm screwed.
  • I can’t eat beef because it makes me ill (do not know why)
  • After a week of taking an iron supplement once a day, I felt better!  (That sorta clinched it).
But this is just me.  According to the Mayo Clinic, many people get other symptoms with iron deficiency besides fatigue.  They include:
  • Brittle nails
  • No appetite or very little appetite
  • A craving to eat really, really weird things like candle wax, hair, dirt or pen caps
  • Sore or swollen tongue
  • Restless legs syndrome
Read The Directions

You don’t want to take too much iron.  More is definitely not better with iron supplements!  You risk liver damage by taking too much iron.  Although my iron supplement’s label says to take three times a day, my doctor advised me to only take it  once a day to see if that’s all my body needed — and to avoid overloading my body with iron.

Popping an iron supplement or switching to foods rich in iron will not automatically get rid of your constant fatigue.  But it sure helps.  You also need to exercise for a half hour at least five times a week.  You also need to watch caffeine intake and learn how to relax without chemicals.  All of this can help you get enough energy to get through the day.

Hope this helps.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Stress of Getting Out of Bed

"Scorpio: Stay inside. Don’t breathe."   – Dennis Miller

I hate getting out of bed.  It’s often the worst part of my day.  It’s even worse when my dreams have been so fabulous that real life pales in comparison.  So I get a lot of stress getting out of bed.  I can’t be the only one.  Over the years, I’ve been able (mostly) to deal with this stress.  Here are some tips on how to cope with the stress of getting out of bed.

Don’t Drink A Lot Before Going To Bed

The bladder is your internal alarm clock, but it can backfire on you if you drink a lot of water or herbal tea or alcoholic beverages before going to bed, hoping a full bladder will help getting out of bed easier.  Usually, all this means is you have to wake up a few times during the night, interrupting your sleep.  The worst is when you wake up a half hour before you need to get up, dying to go.  When you’re done, what’s the point in getting back in bed?  And you’ve lost a half hour of sleep.

Get A Pet

Almost any pet except a scorpion will greatly encourage you to get out of bed.  As soon as they suspect you are awake (but still have your eyes closed), they will whine, squeak, paw, bite the bars of their cages until you actually get up and feed them.  This is a great way to cut down on the stress of getting out of bed.  It leaves you with no choice.

Don’t Argue With Yourself

On the days you have off, or if you telecommute and really don’t need to use an alarm, you can still stress out before leaving your bed.  It feels so nice and cozy and the world outside is cold and far too busy.  What can you put off to stay in bed an extra ten minutes?  The deliberation inside your head can quickly bring up feelings of guilt ("I should get up") to panic ("Can’t I fake an aneurysm today just to stay in bed?").  Your life is stressful enough without arguing with yourself.  Just get up!

Have A Laugh

The first thing you think about in the morning when you wake up can help color your whole day.  This is not to put any pressure on you.  But it does help.  Perhaps you could pin up jokes or cartoons where you can see them from your bed, or next to your alarm.  (Like the Dennis Miller joke above for us Scorpios). This is another time having a pet can help you get out of bed.  My dog will roll on her back for a belly rub when she knows I’m awake.  It’s kind of hard for me to stay grumpy when I’ve got dog bellies to rub.

Hope this helps.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

When You Have a Song Stuck In Your Head

One sleep problem I have is being bothered by an earworm all damn night. Perhaps, you, too have suffered from earworms.

I have this theory that hell is being stuck with only three CDs of incredibly bad music.  There’s probably more to hell, but the music is what really rubs the salt into your wounds.  Whenever I come across a song that really turns my stomach, I think, "That’s on the 3 CD Soundtrack to Hell).

But it can incredibly stressful when you have one of these musical mutations stuck in your head for days on end.  I remember when I had "Achy Breaky Heart" stuck in my head for about a week. I’d rather get a root canal than have that happen to me again. 

The Pet Shop Boys

The song I currently have stuck in my head is the Pet Shop Boys’ "It’s A Sin."  I figure it’ll go away when the Pet Shop Boys CD I bought will finally arrive in the mail.  This isn’t as stressful as I happen to really like the song.  But what do you do when you have a song stuck in your head that you abhor?

Substitute Another Song

This is the "fighting fire with fire" approach.  Songs that get stuck in your head are often have incredibly simple melodies that keep on repeating.  The only problem is that you have to find a song you like that fits these criteria in order to smother the original song.  Songs I find useful to help break up "Achey Breaky Heart" from my head include:
  • Rugby songs (those in England know what I’m talking about.  These songs have absolutely nothing to do with rugby.
  • "The Yellow Rose of Texas"
  • "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
  • "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt"
  • "On Top of Old Smoky"
  • "Bingo"
  • Meow Mix jingle (any commercial jingle will usually dislodge even your most cherished of songs)
  • "It’s A Sin" by the Pet Shop Boys
Chewing on Cinnamon Sticks

I just discovered this folk-lore remedy while researching this article, so I’m not sure how effective it is.  But any port in a storm, I say! 

Sing the Entire Dreaded Song Out Loud

This is another folk lore remedy for getting rid of horrible songs.  This does sometimes work — but you have to know all of the lyrics.  I can tell you right now that I haven’t brought myself to Google the lyrics to "Achy Breaky Heart".  I’m afraid that in some horrible case of mistaken identity, my computer will be seized by the police looking for whatever it is they look for when they seize computers.  They’ll find I’ve looked up the lyrics to "Achy Breaky Heart".  I’ll never hear the end of it.  It’ll go on my tombstone.

Listen to Running Water

It’s hard not to worry about a song stuck in your head, but worry only compounds the song’s hold upon your brain.  What sometimes helps for me is to go listen to a fountain, a river, a rainstorm or my fish tank.  I suppose you could listen to radio static, but that sound drives me mental, so I don’t use it.  The running water sounds trigger a relaxation response in me.  They also usually don’t have any rhythm to them, so I can’t match the song to the water. 

Hope this helps.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar ... About Menopause And Insomnia

It’s not easy being a woman, no matter what stage of life you are at.  When a teenager, you have acne and periods.  Each woman has a differing amount of acne or degree of menstrual problems.  If you don’t have your period, you’re either very ill or pregnant, both having their own brand of miseries. 

So don’t be upset when menopause comes around.  At least menopause ends eventually.  Old age is not a worse phase of life – it’s just different.  And then you won’t have to worry about periods, pregnancy or menopause.  I can’t make any promises about the acne.

The All-Nighter

Menopause and insomnia are usually inseparable – menopause will almost always bring on insomnia.  This is considered one of the most annoying symptoms of pre-menopause or menopause.  It is hard to get a full day’s work done when you are drowsy.  You might wake up with a night sweat, have an irritable urinary problems, wake with a persistent food craving, or just plain can’t sleep.  

Worrying about your menopause and insomnia will only make it worse.  Odds are, it’ll be years before the problem goes away by itself, so for Pete’s sake, go to doctor.

Why Me?

The reduction in hormones from your menopause can knock your body temperature around like a football.  Your doctor may suggest sleep aids, depending on you current health and past medical history, but sleeping pills are not always effective.  The best thing you can do is try not to stress out about it and explain to your family and friends what you’re going through.  Keeping up or starting a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise can also help your body deal with menopause and insomnia

Your doctor may recommend a type of hormone replacement therapy to help your menopause and insomnia symptoms lessen.  You can choose from Premarin, made from pregnant mare’s urine, to plant-based alternatives.  You can take pills, patches or creams.  

Other Tips for Dealing with Insomnia

To promote good sleep, cut down on MSG, caffeine, alcohol and smoking.  Herbal teas like chamomile or lemon balm can help you relax, as well as being tasty. 

Keeping your room dark and cool can help the body relax into sleep.  If you can possibly help it, keep your bed reserved for sleep only.  Don’t even read or watch television in bed.  Over time, the body will be subliminally programmed by laying down on the bed to go to sleep.  It’s the same logic as your bladder suddenly having to go whenever you pour water into a glass.

Image by 
Faisal Akram for Wikimedia Commons

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