Headache is one of the most common types of pain that is felt on your head or on the upper neck portion of the body. Headache is categorized into primary, secondary and other types. Migraine, cluster headache and tension headache belongs to primary type. Any headache arising due to underlying illness or injury is called secondary headache. Most of the primary headaches can be managed with OTC medications like pain-killers. If you have headache with fever, stiffness in the neck you need to seek immediate medical care.
The pain of headache may originate from the tissues of the brain or the nerve endings of the brain. Sometimes the muscles that surround the skull, eyes, ears or sinuses can develop inflammation (swelling) causing pain felt as headache. Headache pain can be anything ranging from dull ache to sharp staggering pain.
Types and Symptoms
- Headaches are classified into primary and secondary type. Headaches caused by tension, stress, migraine headache and cluster headaches are of primary type. Tension headache is the most common type of headache that occurs 1 in every 20 people around the world. Migraine headache occurs in adults as well as on children. Women have more of migraine headache than men. Cluster headache is a rare type of headache affecting adolescent men.
- Secondary headache is caused due to injury or underlying illness in the neck or head. Sometimes medical conditions like dental pain, sinus infection can also cause secondary headache. It can also be caused due to serious conditions like meningitis or brain infection. Another type called traumatic headache includes headache caused by substance abuse or due to overuse of medications for treating headache.
- Acute headache is one which is felt on many occasions and is short-lived. Chronic headache would be felt daily requiring long term treatment. Chronic type of headaches can occur for few days, 15 days or even for months together. There are many types and divisions of chronic headache based on the time of occurrence. Chronic migraine headache can originate from tension or migraine and may last for few days or more. The person having chronic migraine will have pain only on one side of his head and the intensity of pain may range from moderate to severe. Some people may have nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light.
- Chronic tension headache would last for few hours and pain will be felt on both sides of your head. The pain may be felt as pressing pain and the affected person may have nausea and sensitivity to light/sound. Persistent headache would occur daily hurting both the sides of your head causing mild to moderate pain. Very often, headache is felt on both sides of the head with dull or throbbing pain.
When To See A Doctor?
If you have persistent headache for more than a week with mild/moderate fever or if your headache pattern changes after few days, you need to seek immediate medical care. Further you need to consult your doctor immediately if you have sudden/severe headache with stiff neck, seizure or double vision or numbness in the hands and legs.
Most of the time, there is no underlying cause for chronic persistent headaches. It may originate from stress/tension or sometimes headache is just a response of pain signals in your brain. Some areas of the brain that suppresses pain signals are not working properly you may get headache.
Headaches can be caused due to underlying diseases like infections (meningitis or encephalitis), inflammation of blood vessels or tissues of the brain, due to severe intracranial pressure, due to brain tumor or any other injury or trauma to the brain. Many people can develop frequent headaches due to the rebound effect of taking pain killers or analgesics very often.
Who Are At Risk?
People with problems of anxiety, depression, sleeping problems, obese people, and those who are taking too much of caffeine or those who are using too much of pain medications are at high risk of developing headache.
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Physical examination of the body is the first step your doctor would take if you are recognized with chronic headache. He may ask you few questions about your eating/drinking habit and sleeping pattern. He may request for blood culture, urine analysis and in case of serious problems he may order for CT/MRI scan for ruling out any inflammation or infections in the brain.
For tension headaches you can take over the counter medications like aspirin (only for adults), ibuprofen, acetaminophen or naproxen. You can also try alternative therapy like massage or biofeedback for relieving the headache symptoms. You can do yoga and meditation techniques regularly to get rid of tension and to know more about stress management.
In case of secondary headaches treatment lies in detecting the underlying illness or conditions. For some people headaches can be prevented if they stop overuse of medications like pain killers or analgesics. To prevent headaches your doctor may prescribe antidepressants like nortriptyline for managing chronic headaches. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors SSRI like Prozac or Sarafem is also given for treating depression/anxiety.
Beta blockers like atenolol, metoprolol are given for managing high blood pressure which in turn prevents chronic migraines. Anti-seizure drugs like Topamax, Sodium Valporate is also used for preventing migraine. NSAID’s and Botulinum toxin are also used for managing chronic daily headaches.
Acupuncture technique uses thin needles for pricking the areas of the skin at selected points for reducing/preventing episodes of headache. Biofeedback is yet another method used for managing headaches related to tension. Meditation and yoga therapy is highly beneficial for managing stress related headaches and also used as muscle relaxants. Light massage is recommended for relaxing the muscles of your head and neck portions. Vitamin supplement can be useful for repairing any deficiency of brain cells thus managing headaches. Electrical stimulation method is used for stimulating the occipital nerve located at the base of the neck.
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Avoid factors that trigger headaches. You can note down the daily events in a notebook for managing the stress level which helps in preventing headaches. Avoid taking lots of medications for treating pain since it can trigger headache as rebound effect. Eat healthy balanced diet and exercise regularly so that you would get quality sleep. Reduce the intake of caffeine and practice relaxation exercises like yoga and meditation.