Headaches and Headache Treatments

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A headache (or cephalalgia in medical terms) is a condition of pain in the head. Sometimes, upper back or neck pain may also be interpreted as a headache. Headache ranks amongst the most common local pain complaints and may be frequent for many people.

What Causes Headaches?

The vast majority of headaches are benign and self-limiting. Common causes include tension, migraine, eye strain, dehydration, low blood sugar, and sinusitis. A migraine is a neurological syndrome characterized by altered bodily experiences, painful headaches, and nausea. It is a common condition which affects women more frequently than men. When the headache occurs in conjunction with a head injury, the cause is usually quite evident. A large percentage of headaches among women are caused by ever-fluctuating estrogen during menstrual years. This can occur prior to or even during midcycle menstruation.

Treatment of an uncomplicated headache is usually symptomatic, using over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin, paracetamol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen. Some specific forms of headaches (for example, migraines) may demand other more suitable treatment. It may be possible to relate the occurrence of a headache to other particular triggers (such as stress or particular foods), which can then be avoided.

What Are the Different Types of Headaches?

Yes, there are actually different types of headaches, depending on the cause or location of the pain. The four main types of headaches are vascular, myogenic, cervicogenis, and chronic progressive headaches.

Vascular Headaches

The most common type of vascular headache is migraine. Migraine headaches are usually characterized by severe pain on one or both sides of the head, an upset stomach, and, for some people, disturbed vision. It is more common in women. While vascular changes are evident during a migraine, the cause of the headache is neurologic, not vascular.

Myogenic Headaches

Myogenic or muscular headaches appear to involve the tightening or tensing of facial and neck muscles; they may radiate to the forehead. Tension headache is the most common form of myogenic headache.

Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches originate from disorders of the neck, including the anatomical structures innervated by the cervical roots C1–C3. Cervical headache is often precipitated by neck movement and/or sustained awkward head positioning. It is often accompanied by restricted cervical range of motion, ipsilateral neck, shoulder, or arm pain of a rather vague non-radicular nature or, occasionally, arm pain of a radicular nature.

Chronic Progressive Headaches

Chronic progressive headaches (also known as traction or inflammatory headaches) are symptoms of other disorders, ranging from stroke to sinus infection. Specific types of chronic progressive headaches include:

How to Get Headache Relief

Not all headaches require medical attention, and many respond with simple analgesia (painkillers) such as paracetamol/acetaminophen or members of the NSAID class (such as aspirin/acetylsalicylic acid or ibuprofen).

In recurrent unexplained headaches, healthcare professionals may recommend keeping a “headache diary” with entries on type of headache, associated symptoms, precipitating and aggravating factors. This may reveal specific patterns, such as an association with medication, menstruation or absenteeism or with certain foods. It was reported in March 2007 by two separate teams of researchers that stimulating the brain with implanted electrodes appears to help ease the pain of cluster headaches.