Most people will experience headaches many times throughout their lives. Up to 75% of adults worldwide have had a headache in the past year.

A minor headache is little more than a nuisance, but if your headaches are severe or frequent, they can take a toll on your social, professional, and family life. For some people, continually battling headaches can lead to anxiety and depression.

Different types of headaches and symptoms

There are more than 150 types of headaches. They fall into two main categories, however: primary and secondary headaches.

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches aren’t due to another medical condition. Primary headaches include:

  • Cluster headaches

  • Migraines

  • New Daily Persistent Headaches (NDPH)

  • Tension Headaches

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches occur due to another medical condition. Some medical conditions that may cause headaches are:

  • Tumors

  • Head injuries

  • Trauma

  • High blood pressure (also known as hypertension)

  • Sinus congestion

  • Infections

  • Medication overuse

  • Pregnancy

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Stroke

Different headaches bring on different symptoms. We couldn’t possibly list them all, but we gathered a few examples for you.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache among adults and teens. It occurs in about three of every four adults. They’re considered a primary headache, and the pain tends to be:

  • Mild to moderate

  • Consistent, without throbbing

  • Dull and squeezing, like you have a tight band around your head

  • May spread to or from the neck and shoulders

  • Worse during routine activities

  • On both sides of the head

  • Responsive to over-the-counter treatments

Migraines

Migraines are also a primary headache. They occur less often than tension headaches, but they’re usually much more severe. Symptoms include:

  • Moderate to severe pain

  • Pounding or throbbing pain

  • Pain on only one side of the head, but it may switch sides

  • Sensitivity to light, noise, or smells

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Loss of appetite

  • Pain that lasts four hours to three days

  • Changes in vision

Although migraines often come without warning, they’re usually set off by a trigger. These triggers vary from person to person. Here’s a list of common migraine triggers:

  • Weather changes

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Lack of sleep or oversleeping

  • Missing meals

  • Fatigue 

  • Bright or flickering lights

  • Loud noises

  • Strong smells

  • Emotional stress

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are the most severe type of primary headache. They come in a group (or cluster), usually in the spring or fall. Cluster headaches occur one to eight times per day during a cluster period. Cluster periods may last from two weeks to three months. Cluster headache pain:

  • Intense, with a burning or stabbing sensation

  • Throbbing or constant

  • Located behind or around one of your eyes, without changing sides

  • Lasts from 15 minutes to 3 hours

  • May wake you up from sleep

You may also feel:

  • Tearing or redness in the eye

  • A drooping eyelid

  • A blocked or runny nose

  • Facial sweating

  • Restlessness

Men are three to five times more likely to get them than women.

New Daily Persistent Headaches (NDPH)

Another type of primary headache, new daily persistent headaches, come on suddenly and last for more than three months. NDPH pain is:

  • Moderate to severe

  • Constant and persistent, without easing up

  • Not responsive to medications

  • Located on both sides of the head

Sinus Headaches

A secondary headache, sinus headaches are the result of a sinus infection. Symptoms of sinus headaches/infection include:

  • Runny nose (yellow or green mucus)

  • Bad taste in the mouth 

  • Pain that gets worse with head movement or straining (such as bending forward or lying down)

  • Deep and constant pain in your cheekbones, forehead, or on the nose bridge

  • A feeling of fullness in the ears

  • Facial swelling

  • Fever

Medication Overuse Headaches

Sadly, taking pain relievers for headaches frequently may increase your number of headaches. These headaches tend to result from taking opiate-based medications, such as codeine or morphine. Medication Overuse Headaches (MOH) affect up to 5% of people. Signs of MOH include:

  • Headaches becoming more frequent

  • Pain that’s worse in the morning

  • More days with headaches than without

  • Neck pain 

  • Restlessness

  • Reduced sleep quality

  • A feeling of nasal congestion

Post-traumatic Headaches

These headaches usually start 2-3 days after a head injury. They may last for a few months, but you should call your doctor if it doesn’t get better within a couple of weeks. People with post-traumatic headaches usually feel:

  • A dull ache that gets worse from time to time

  • Irritability

  • Vertigo

  • Lightheadedness

  • Memory problems

  • Trouble concentrating

Hormone Headaches

Shifting hormone levels during periods, pregnancy, and menopause may cause headaches. The hormone changes from birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy may also trigger headaches. 

Thunderclap Headaches

People describe thunderclap headaches as “the worst headache of my life.” This headache comes suddenly and peaks quickly. It may be caused by:

  • Blood pressure changes in late pregnancy

  • Blood vessel tear, rupture, or blockage

  • Inflamed blood vessels

  • Hemorrhagic stroke from a ruptured blood vessel in the brain

  • Narrowed blood vessels surrounding the brain

  • Ischemic stroke from a blocked blood vessel in the brain

  • Aneurysm

  • Meningitis

  • Head injury

People who experience these sudden, severe headaches should receive immediate medical care.

Headache Causes

There is no guaranteed cause for headaches unless it’s a secondary headache. Headaches, in general, may be caused by the following factors:

  • Genetics. Headaches tend to run in families, especially migraines.

  • Food. Certain foods may cause headaches.

  • Smoking.

  • Strong odors from chemicals.

  • Alcohol use.

  • Changes in sleeping patterns.

  • Depression.

  • Emotional stress.

  • Excessive medication use.

  • Eye, neck, or back strain caused by poor posture.

  • Noise.

  • Weather changes.

  • Illness. 

  • Eyesight problems.

  • Dehydration.

  • Menstruation or menopause.

Diagnosing the cause of your headaches

To diagnose the cause of your headaches, your healthcare provider will start with a physical examination, a discussion of your medical history, and a symptom evaluation. 

To get the most accurate diagnosis possible, you should have answers to the following questions:

  • When did the headaches start?

  • What do your headaches feel like?

  • How often do the headaches happen?

  • How long do the headaches last each time?

  • How painful are your headaches?

  • Do your headaches cause work problems?

  • What are your sleep habits like?

  • What are your stress levels?

  • How much caffeine do you drink each day?

  • What foods, drinks, or events tend to cause you headaches?

  • Does anyone in your family have headaches?

  • Does your headache get worse with physical activity?

Your doctor will look for signs and symptoms of an illness that may be causing the headache. These can include:

  • Fever

  • Infection

  • High blood pressure

  • Muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling

  • Excessive fatigue

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Balance problems

  • Dizziness

  • Nause and vomiting

  • Vision problems

  • Seizures

  • Mental confusion

A neurological examination may also be performed to rule out the following conditions:

  • Tumor

  • Aneurysm

  • Meningitis

  • Abscess

  • Hemmhorage

  • Injury 

  • Infection

  • Encephalitis

  • Blood clots

  • Head trauma

After this evaluation, your physician should be able to determine what type of headache you have, whether or not it’s a serious problem and if there are additional tests needed.

Migraines, cluster, or tension-type headaches can’t be diagnosed through scans or other imaging tests. But, if your doctor suspects other conditions, he may order one or more of the following:

  • CT Scan

  • MRI

  • EEG (electroencephalogram)

  • Blood tests

Headache pain management and treatment

It’s crucial that you learn what triggers your headaches. You can learn the triggers by keeping a headache log where you register when you felt a headache, where you were, what you were doing, how you were feeling, etc.

After the cause of your headaches is diagnosed and you learn the triggers, you’ll be able to start adequate treatment.

Not every headache requires medication. Depending on the factors mentioned above, treatment options include:

Stress Management

Many headaches are induced by stress. By learning how to cope with stressful situations and practicing relaxation techniques, you might get headache relief, decreased frequency, or even get rid of your headaches altogether.

Biofeedback

Biofeedback teaches you to recognize when tension is building in your body. You learn how your body responds to stressful situations and ways to settle it down. During biofeedback, sensors are connected to your body. They monitor involuntary physical responses to headaches, which include increases in:

  • Breathing rate

  • Brain activity

  • Pulse

  • Muscle tension

  • Heart rate

  • Temperature

Medications

Over-the-counter pain relievers tend to work well in case of a tension headache. But make sure you don’t overuse medication, as that might cause you more headaches in the future.

For frequent or more severe headaches, your healthcare provider may suggest prescription medication, such as:

  • Triptans

  • Opioids

  • Opiates (this is not the safer route and should only be used if other options fail)

  • Preventive medication for specific conditions, such as migraines

  • Treatments for the underlying condition, if present

Self-care

There are some steps you can take at home, by yourself, to reduce the frequency or pain of your headaches. Self-care treatments for headaches include:

  • Applying heat or cold packs to your head

  • Taking a walk

  • Doing stretching exercises

  • Resting in a dark and quiet room

  • Massaging your head, neck, or back

Alternative/Integrative Medicine

Several alternative forms of headache treatment are available, but it’s essential to consult your doctor before beginning any new treatments. Some of these treatments include:

  • Acupuncture

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • Hypnosis

  • Meditation

At Nona Medical Arts, we offer pain management solutions that may help you deal with your headaches. Call us at (407) 318-7864 if you’d like to learn more on how we can help.

Prevention

As with treatment, the key to preventing headaches is figuring out what triggers them. Once you determine your triggers, you can avoid or minimize them.

To prevent headaches, you should:

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Have a healthy sleeping schedule

  • Avoid stress whenever possible

  • Exercise regularly

  • Take breaks when working to stretch

On the other hand, if you want to avoid headaches, you shouldn’t:

  • Drink alcohol

  • Skip meals

  • Sleep more than you usually would

  • Strain your eyes for a long time

When to see a doctor

Contact a health care provider if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Three or more headaches per week

  • Headaches that are triggered by exertion, coughing, bending, or strenuous activity

  • Headaches that keep getting worse 

  • You need to take a pain reliever every day or almost every day due to your headaches

  • You need more than 2 to 3 doses of over-the-counter medications per week to relieve headache symptoms

  • Your headaches keep coming back 

  • Painkillers don’t help 

  • You feel sick, vomit, and find light or noise painful

  • Your headache is unusually severe

  • Headaches are preventing you from doing normal daily activities

When to seek urgent care

You should get medical care right away if you experience:

  • A sudden, new, severe headache

  • A headache that occurs after a head injury or accident

  • A headache that is associated with:

    • Paralysis

    • Blurry vision

    • Sudden loss of balance

    • Speech difficulties

    • Mental confusion

    • Seizures

    • Loss of consciousness

    • Weakness or numbness

  • A headache with a fever, shortness of breath, or stiff neck

  • A headache with severe nausea and vomiting

Outlook

The good news is that you can choose from many kinds of treatment. If your first treatment plan doesn’t work, don’t give up. There will always be other treatments and strategies to find what’s right for you.

We offer a wide variety of pain management solutions that may help with your headaches. Call us at (407) 318-7864 or click the button below to learn more about our pain management solutions.

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