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A headache is pain felt anywhere on or around the head or neck. Headaches occur in different patterns and present themselves in very different ways. They are often disruptive, as they impair the focus and concentration of the individual suffering the headache. As a result, they are considered to be debilitating.
Most headaches are short-lived, and often resolve by themselves. Because of this, they are rarely a cause for concern. In some situations, however, headaches can last a very long time. These kinds of headaches are usually associated with some underlying pathology or condition.
There are several kinds of headaches, and the symptoms and treatment often depend on the type of headache being experienced. Most headaches can be treated with rest and some pain killers.
There are over 150 different kinds of headaches identified by the International Classification of Headache Disorders. These headache disorders are divided into two major classes—primary and secondary. We will be discussing 11 of these headaches.
A primary headache is a headache that’s not caused by another condition. In this case, the headache is its own origin, and resolving the headache does not leave any residual effects. The types of primary headaches include:
A migraine is an intense throbbing pain on the head or neck. They very often affect only one side of the head, and may also spread to the neck. The cause of migraines is currently unknown, although it has been linked to the excitation of nerves and the effect of serotonin in the body.
Regardless of the cause, Migraines are serious medical conditions that can cause severe, even crippling pain. They often last for a couple of hours and treated with drugs like sumatriptan and rizatriptan.
Tension headaches are the most common kinds of headaches. When most people complain of headaches, they usually refer to tension headaches. They are felt as a dull and constant pain, and unlike migraines, they are usually felt on both sides of the head.
The causes of tension headaches include things like Insufficient sleep, dehydration and eye strain. Tension headaches are successfully treated with over the counter painkiller like ibuprofen.
Cluster headaches are known for their severe and recurrent nature. They are differentiated from tension headaches by the presence of an intense burning or piercing pain around the eye. Cluster headaches have a sudden and unannounced onset and often last between 15 minutes and 3 hours.
Additionally, there are recurrent, happening often, and more common in men than women. Cluster headaches are also known for occurring at the same time of the day, which is often after falling asleep at night. Treatments include subcutaneous sumatriptan injections and nasal sprays. Verapamil is also recommended as the first line of treatment.
As the name suggests, these are caused by a high level of exertion and physical activity. Nearly everyone experiences these kinds of headaches when performing strenuous activity. It’s particularly known to occur when an individual performs an activity they are not used to, like running, jumping, and weight lifting.
These headaches last a short time and go away with rest. Additionally, performing the activity repeatedly with increasing intensity can build up a tolerance and reduce the chances of the headache happening again.
Hypnic headaches are unique headache types that customarily affect people in their fifties. They are also known as alarm clock headaches because they wake the individual from sleep. The pain pattern with a hypnic headache is described as a throbbing pain that’s felt on both sides of the head.
The cause of hypnic headaches is unknown, and it’s often treated with caffeine. The caffeine can be taken by tablet or in coffee and is usually taken before bed.
The secondary types of headaches are headaches that are caused by other conditions. Treating or resolving the conditions often takes care of the headaches. Head injuries and caffeine withdrawals are common causes of secondary headaches.
These are caused by taking painkillers very frequently, usually more than 15 days in a month. Drugs that can cause it to include opioids and Acetaminophen. Ironically, these painkillers are often taken to prevent some other kind of headache.
Sinus headaches are caused by acute or chronic sinusitis, and they cause dull and a throbbing ache that spreads around the eyes, cheeks and forehead. These kinds of headaches are very rare and easily diagnosed. This is because they follow sinusitis, and they are most felt around the sinuses.
These are caused by heavy caffeine consumption
The symptoms experienced by the individual who has a headache varies depending on the kind of headache they have. Some of the common symptoms of headaches include
With tension headaches, most of these symptoms are only seen in mild severities. However, they are more intense in other kinds of headaches.
The world health organization declares that most people will experience a headache from time to time. And most of the time, it’s nothing to worry about and usually resolves within a few hours. Between 64% and 77% of people have had headaches at some points in their lives.
Additionally, between 46% and 53% of people have headaches in any given year. Statistics also show that about of all these people, only about 1% to 5% seek emergency treatment for their headaches. Of all the headache types that affect individuals, nine out of ten of them are tension headaches.
The risk factors for headaches are numerous. Because they are very common, little occurrences can predispose anyone to have headaches. However, some factors have stronger links to the development of headaches than others, and those include:
Headaches are unique conditions because they have highly specific symptoms (pain in the head), and can thus be diagnosed based on history alone. Actually, anyone who feels a headache knows they have one.
However, determining the specific kind of headache present is important for the treatment. This differentiation too, can be done via history taking. Tests like neuroimaging and lumbar puncture are also used.
While most headaches are no cause for concern, a few types often require special attention. Identifying these kinds of headaches involves looking out for red flags. These red flags include
The treatment of headaches depends on the kind of headaches experienced. As mentioned earlier, most headaches are tension headaches, and they usually resolve within a few hours, with rest and some over the counter pain killers. The same thing applies to exertion headaches. However, other kinds of headaches, like migraines and cluster headaches, require special medications.