The Facts About Headaches

Posted on July 02 2018

Headaches are the most common medical condition that affect 60 to 80 percent of all people at any given time, at any given age, and for any given reason. We've all experienced headaches in one form or another, whether they were classified as stress, sinus or allergy, or the most intense type of a headache, the migraine.

A headache can be defined as head pain that may or may not have an underlying disorder. However, headaches can be much more complicated than most people realize. There are 150 different types of headaches, and each type has their own set of symptoms, happen for unique reasons, and require different types of treatment. 

Headaches are classified into two main groups: primary headaches and secondary headaches. A primary headache means that there is no underlying medical condition to cause the pain. A secondary headache means that there is an underlying medical condition that have contributed to the head pain. Once you consult with your doctor about the type you have, it will be easier to find the treatment that will help, or even prevent the headaches.

As mentioned above, there are 150 different types of headaches, but there are only 5 different types that are most common to children, teens, and adults. The following are the most frequent types of headaches that people experience: 

  • Tension Headaches: the most common type of headache among children, teens and adults that cause mild to moderate pain. They typically come and go, and have no other symptoms.
  • Migraine: intense headaches that are caused by the constriction and dilation of intracranial and extracranial arteries. They are often described as pounding, throbbing, and nauseating pain. Migraines can begin to appear in childhood or adolescence, and recur throughout adulthood. They affect 17% of females and only 6% of males. Migraines can last anywhere from four hours to three days and usually occur one to four times per month. Symptoms include: unilateral, pulsating pain that gradually becomes more generalized, irritability, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, noise, or smells, and tender spots on the head and neck.
  • Cluster Headaches: these are the least common, but most severe type of headache. They are called cluster headaches because they tend to happen in groups. Some people may experience them one to three times per day during a "cluster period", which can last two weeks to three months. Each headache attack can last from 15 minutes to three hours, and have been known to wake the individual from sleep. The headaches may go into remission for months or years, only to return again. Symptoms include: intense, burning, or piercing pain behind or around one eye, (pain can be constant or throbbing) pacing, eyelid drooping, eye redness, decreased pupils, tears forming in the eye, and congestion. Cluster headaches often affect men three to four times more often than women.
  • Sinus Headaches: when cavities in your head, called sinuses become inflamed, this type of headache occurs. Symptoms include: a deep, constant pain in your cheekbones, forehead or the bridge of your nose, green or yellow nasal discharge, congestion in ears, facial swelling, and a fever.
  • Hormonal Headaches: Women can get headaches, or migraines caused by changes in their hormone levels. This is most common during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Contraceptives may also trigger headaches in some women.

Causes of Headaches

There are several conditions that can contribute to the pain an individual feels during a headache. Doctors have studied that the pain from a headache comes from a mixture of signals between a person's brain, blood vessels, and nearby nerves. Specific nerves of the blood vessels and head muscles switch on and send pain signals to the brain, however; doctors are not entirely sure why these signals turn on.

The most common causes of headaches include:

  • Allergies or environmental stimulants, such as: smoke, perfumes, allergens, pollution, or household chemicals
  • Illnesses, such as: Diabetes, infections, colds, or fevers
  • Emotional and physical stress
  • Fatigue and change in sleeping patterns
  • Poor posture, which leads to eye, neck, and back strain
  • Changes in weather systems
  • Hormonal changes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Glaucoma
  • Underlying intracranial disorders
  • Head trauma, tumors, bleeding in the brain, abscess, or aneurysm.  

To diagnose headaches properly, the first step is speaking with your doctor. A physical exam will be performed, and your doctor will most likely ask you questions regarding your symptoms, such as: how long they last, how often they occur, what triggers them, what helps you feel better, what makes your headaches worse, etc. It is extremely important to be honest and upfront with your doctor when describing your symptoms.

Treatment of Headaches

While there isn't a specific testing process, doctors may want to perform an CT scan or an MRI of the brain to look for any problems that may be causing your headaches. From there, they will be able to provide a treatment plan for you. 

Ultimately, the treatment can vary based upon the types of headaches, how often they occur, and their cause. Some people don't need to seek medical help at all, but those who do may be presented with a variety of options to soothe their symptoms. 

  • Yoga, meditation, or other forms of relaxation therapy
  • Psychotherapy 
  • Adequate hydration and avoidance of dietary triggers, such as sugars
  • Medications, such as analgesics - acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen
  • Medications, such as tranquilizers - Xanax, diazepam, lorazepam
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Proper rest in a dark, quiet room
  • Remaining in a cool environment
  • Ergotamine preparations
  • Preventative medications, such as: clonidine, propranolol, topiramate, valproate, and triptan agents. 

Once you start a treatment program, keep track of how well it is working. Note any changes or patterns to how you feel, and always consult your physician before stopping or starting any treatment.