Conditions & Treatments

Causes of Headache

Secondary headaches are caused by disorders of the neck, eyes, brain, jaw or teeth. Primary headaches are caused by non-medical triggers or factors such as muscle tension, foods, medications, dehydration or changing levels of hormones that influence headaches.

Types of primary headaches:

Migraines are distinguished by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, sensitivity to light and other visual symptoms that usually occur in addition to head pain. Migraines have distinct phases, however not every individual experiences each phase. Premonition phase, in which there is a sudden change in mood or behavior that occurs hours or days before the headache. Aura phase is a group of visual, sensory, or motor systems that immediately precede the headache. They could be hallucinations, numbness, changes in speech, and muscle weakness.

Tension headaches are the most common. Stress and muscle tension are often the culprit of tension headaches. Symptoms may differ, but the following are common symptoms of tension-type headaches:

  • Slow onset of the headache
  • Head usually hurts on both sides
  • Pain is dull or feels like a band or vice around the head
  • Pain is mild to moderate, but not severe

Cluster headaches usually occur in a series and last maybe weeks or months and the headache series may return every year or two. People will experience symptoms differently, but the following are common symptoms:

  • Severe pain on one side of the head, usually behind one eye
  • The eye that is affected may have a droopy lid, small pupil, or redness and swelling of the eyelid
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Swelling of the forehead

What are serious symptoms of headache?

  • Headaches that start early in the morning
  • Pain that is worsened by strain, such as a cough or a sneeze
  • Vomiting without nausea
  • Sudden onset of pain and the “worst headache” ever
  • Headache that is becoming more severe or continuous
  • Personality changes
  • Changes in vision
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  • Seizures or epilepsy

Treatment of Headache

Treatment depends upon factors such as age, overall health, medical history and the extent of the condition. Headache management depends on accurate identification of the type of headache and may include:

  • Avoiding known triggers, such as certain foods and beverages, lack of sleep and fasting
  • Changing eating habits
  • Exercise
  • Resting in a quiet, dark environment
  • Medications, as recommended by your doctor
  • Stress management

Migraines may require specific medication management including:

  • Abortive medications that act on specific receptors in nerves and blood vessels in the head to stop a headache in progress
  • Rescue medications that are purchased over-the-counter such as analgesics and stop the headache
  • Preventive medications that are prescribed by your doctor and are taken daily to reduce the onset of a severe migraine
  • Some headaches may require immediate medical attention, which could include hospitalization for observation, diagnostic testing or even surgery.