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National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month.

National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month.

Headaches are the most common medical condition, affecting 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.

Migraine and Headache Awareness Month

Types of Headaches

Headaches are classified into two main groups: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headaches involve no underlying medical condition. Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying medical condition.

Out of 150 types of headaches, the following five are most common:

Tension Headaches: the most common type of headache, these 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. Their pain is often described as pounding, throbbing, and nauseating, and can last anywhere from four hours to three days. Affecting affect 17% of women and only 6% of men, migraines can begin to appear in childhood or adolescence, and recur throughout adulthood.  They 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.
  • Tender spots on the head and neck.

Cluster Headaches: Called cluster headaches because they end to happen in groups, these are the least common but most severe type of headache. 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.

Cluster headaches often affect men three to four times more often than women. Symptoms include:

  • Intense, burning, or piercing pain behind or around one eye.
  • Pacing.
  • Eyelid drooping
  • Eye redness.
  • Constricted pupils.
  • Tears forming in the eye.
  • Congestion.

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: smoke, perfumes, allergens, pollution, or household chemicals.
  • Tension.
  • Illnesses: 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. 

Treating Headaches

If you have regular, unexplained headaches, speak with your doctor.They 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.


A variety of options to treat headaches exist, depending on their cause and severity:

  • Relaxation therapy: yoga, meditation.
  • Psychotherapy.
  • Analgesics: acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen.
  • Sedatives: Xanax, diazepam, lorazepam.
  • Preventative medications: clonidine, propranolol, topiramate, valproate, and triptan agents.
  • Muscle relaxants.
  • Ergotamine preparations.
  • Rest.
  • Environmental controls: darkness or shade, cool temperatures.
  • Adequate hydration.
  • Avoidance of dietary triggers, such as sugars.

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. 

The Facts About Headaches from Mountainside Medical Equipment on Vimeo.


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