Headache: Understanding pain

  • September 12, 2020

Headaches are common to all. Most people pay little or no attention to them and usually wait for the pain to subside on its own. In most cases, this approach would be perfectly okay but in some instances, the reason for the headache can be serious and may need medical attention. Hence it is important to understand the different kinds of headache and avoid self-medicating if it is a chronic or acute problem.

Types of Headaches

  • Tension Headaches – This is the commonest of all headaches among teens and adults and may cause mild pain that comes and goes.
  • Migraine Headaches – Such headaches can be described as a throbbing, pounding pain that typically last hours to days and may occur frequently. Migraine triggers can be due to exposure to noise, light or some smells, and they can cause nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach pain etc.
  • Cluster Headaches – Such severe headaches cause a constant throbbing or burning pain behind or around the eye.
  • Chronic Daily Headaches – These are usually short stay headaches (rare ones lasting more than 4 hours) which can remain a daily constant for 15 days to 3 months.
  • Sinus Headaches – Sinus headaches may feel like a constant, deep pain on the forehead, bridge of the nose, or in the cheekbones. These occur when sinuses get inflamed and are usually accompanied by fever, runny nose and swollen face.
  • Post-traumatic Headaches – Known to appear 2-3 days following a head injury, they require an immediate visit to the doctor.

Other headaches

  • Hormone Headaches – Hormonal changes during menopause, menstruation and pregnancy can trigger headaches. Sometimes, changes in hormone levels due to hormone replacement therapy or the use of contraceptives pills may also aggravate headaches.
  • Exercise Headaches – During an intense activity, your scalp muscles, and head and neck muscles require more blood, so in the process of supplying extra blood, the blood vessels swell up. This can cause a pulsing pain on the sides of your head, usually lasting a few minutes to two days.
  • Hemicrania Continua – is a chronic headache that affects the same side of your face and head. Other symptoms may include red or teary eyes, runny or stuffy nose, droopy eyelids, contracted iris etc. Medications help in controlling the symptoms.
  • Ice Pick Headaches – As the name suggests, these are short, stabbing, intense headaches that last only for a few seconds. It is advisable to see a doctor if you have one as it can be a symptom of an underlying serious condition.
  • Spinal Headaches – Headache after a spinal tap, a spinal block, or an epidural may require a doctor’s care. If there is spillage of spinal fluid through the hole while piercing the spinal cord, headaches may be triggered.
  • Thunderclap Headaches – Probably the worst headache of all, it comes suddenly and peaks quickly. Such headaches may be caused due to a rupture, blockage, and tear in the blood vessel, head injury, haemorrhagic or ischemic stroke. They may also be caused due to narrowed blood vessels surrounding the brain, inflamed blood vessels, or blood pressure changes in late pregnancy and need immediate medical care.

What Causes Headaches?

Though it is often difficult to identify a specific cause of a headache, the reasons may include:

  • Illness – Headaches are common with fevers, colds, infections and conditions, like ear or throat infections and sinusitis. A headache resulting from an injury or a more serious medical problem would require immediate medical care.
  • Stress and lifestyle – Headaches can be caused due to stress or depression, alcohol use, skipping meals, changes in sleep patterns, and taking too many medications.
  • Posture – Neck or back strain due to poor posture may also cause aches.
  • Environmental factors – Lighting, noise, weather changes and pollution are some possible triggers of headache.
  • Genetics – Migraine headaches are usually hereditary. If both of your parents have had a migraine in the past, then the chances of you also having them are about 70%.

Diagnosis

For persistent, chronic or sudden severe headaches, the doctor would study your family history and pattern of pain to understand the underlying cause. He/she may also need to evaluate many factors causing your headaches, things that can aggravate them, and what helps you feel better. Most people don’t need any diagnostic tests. But in some cases, the doctors may suggest a CT scan or MRI to diagnose a problem inside the brain that may be causing your headaches. An EEG is usually suggested only if a severe headache is accompanied by a fainting spell.

How Are Headaches Treated?

The treatment would depend on the symptoms and diagnosis. For chronic headaches, you may be referred to a headache specialist. In most cases, people don’t need any medical help. Medications, electronic medical devices for relieving pain, counselling for stress management may be suggested as per requirement.

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