Headaches are very common, and the pain can present itself in many different ways. The pain can radiate across the head and can be felt in any part of the head, or on both sides. Your head can even feel like it’s being pressed in a vise.
Headache pain can be sharp, pulsating, throbbing or dull. Headaches can appear gradually or suddenly, and go away just as gradually or suddenly. They can last for an hour or for several days.
If you have a headache after a blow to the head, or if you have a headache with a stiff neck, fever, confusion, loss of consciousness or pain in the eye or ear, go to the ER immediately.
What causes headaches?
Headaches can be caused by a number of factors: stress, missed meals, depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, exertion, sinus pain, allergies, high blood pressure and changes in estrogen levels caused by menstruation.
What are the types of headaches?
The most common types are:
- Tension headaches: A tension headache can feel like a tight band is around the head, coupled with a dull ache and pressure on both sides of the head. These headaches can cause mild to moderate pain, and they vary widely in duration and frequency.
- Migraines: A migraine headache often causes a pulsating, throbbing, severe pain on one or both sides of the head.
Migraines can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to light and sound, blurred vision and lightheadedness. Women are three times more likely than men to suffer from migraines.
- Cluster headache: The pain of cluster headaches begins quickly and can become intense within minutes. The sufferer might also feel sharp and excruciating pain around and behind the eye.
These headaches tend to subside quickly, but attacks can occur every day for weeks, or even months. Cluster headaches most often affect men and smokers.
How are headaches diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask you to describe the type of pain and the timing and the pattern of your headaches. It’s also helpful to keep a headache diary that lists the symptoms of regular headaches and any possible triggers.
This information can help your healthcare provider diagnose the type of headache you have. Your provider might suggest treatment, including lifestyle changes, to decrease your headache pain and lessen their occurrence.
How are headaches treated?
Talk with your healthcare provider about the best headache treatment. To reduce the risk of headaches and ease the pain when they do occur:
- Apply a heat pack or ice pack to your head or neck
- Make lifestyle changes to cut down on stress and develop healthy coping strategies
- Eat regular meals and avoid alcohol
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Try over-the-counter pain relief medication (but avoid using too much to prevent rebound headaches)
If you have regular headaches a referral to a specialist may be indicated.
In severe cases, a healthcare provider can prescribe preventive medication, such as certain kinds of antidepressants, anti-epileptic drugs and beta blockers.
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