Headaches: What You Need to Know
There are two universal truths all human beings share: everyone gets headaches, and everyone hates them.
Headaches are common and universally unwelcome. According to the Cleveland Clinic, up to 75% of all adults have had a headache in the past year. Given the state of the world we’re living in and the stress we’re dealing with in our day-to-day lives, it’s a miracle the number isn’t higher.
Headaches are the #1 reason we miss work and school. They can have a negative effect on our social and family lives, too. For some people, constant headaches can lead to other mental health issues, like anxiety and depression.
You may not necessarily want to know more about headaches, but it’s important to understand why they exist and what you can do to avoid them.
What a pain
The main symptom of a headache is a pain in your head or face, which can be a throbbing, constant, sharp or dull pain. There are many types of headaches, but there are two main categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches.
Primary headaches aren’t caused by any other medical conditions and can include:
(usually Brain imaging like CT and MRI are normal)
- Cluster headaches
- New daily persistent headaches (NDPH)
- Tension headaches
Secondary headaches are caused by some underling medical condition, such as:
- Bleeding in head
- Head injuries
- High blood pressure
- Brain Infections
- Medication overuse
- Sinus congestion
- Inflammation of blood vessels in the brain
Headaches and migraines
Most people assume a migraine is just bigger headache, but they are two very different things.
“Migraines are usually more intense, episodic and usually occur on one side of the head or other ,” according to Muhammad Akhtar, MD, FACP, a neurology specialist at Adena. “Migraine attacks can be severe and throbbing, and often have other symptoms like nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound.”
Headache pain is caused by signals interacting within your brain, blood vessels and surrounding nerves. During a Migraine attack specific areas in brain get activated, which send signal to the blood vessels, causing head and neck muscles to contract, at the same time these signals activate other areas in brain that can cause nausea, vomiting, vision changes and sometimes even dizziness and vertigo
Common triggers of headaches can include:
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Emotional stress
- Medication use
- Eye, neck or back strain
Headaches can also be hereditary or triggered by environmental factors shared in a household, such as:
- Certain foods or ingredients
- Secondhand smoke
- Strong odors
Now that you know what headaches are, let’s get to the good stuff: how to get rid of them. The most important way to treat a headache is to figure out what triggers it. Start with keeping a log of your headaches and share your findings with a health care provider.
A wide range of treatments are available, including:
- Stress management – helps you learn to cope with stressful situations through deep breathing, muscle relaxation, mental images and music to ease your tension.
- Biofeedback - helps you to recognize when tension is building in your body. Sensors are connected to your body to monitor your involuntary physical responses to headaches, which causes increases in your:
- Breathing rate
- Heart rate
- Muscle tension
- Brain activity
- Medications – help relieve symptoms. Tension headaches usually respond well to over-the-counter pain relievers. For frequent or severe headaches, you may need prescription headache medications. Triptans and other types of drugs can stop a migraine attack. You take them at the first signs of an oncoming headache.
Treating the health problems that cause headaches can eliminate your head pain, but there is no cure for primary headaches. All you can do is relieve symptoms and work to prevent future episodes.
You can treat mild, occasional headaches with over-the-counter pain relievers. Other self-care can include:
- Applying heat or cold packs to your head
- Doing stretching exercises
- Massaging your head, neck or back
- Resting in a dark and quiet room
- Taking a walk
Just like treatment, knowing what triggers a headache can help you prevent them. For example, if strong scents bother you, avoid perfumes and scented products. The same goes for everyday triggers such as food, lack of sleep and bad posture.
When to see a doctor
Headaches, although painful and bothersome, usually aren’t a serious threat to your health. However, headaches can sometimes be a symptom of a potentially life-threatening condition. You should seek immediate medical care immediately if you show any of the following signs:
- A headache after a head injury
- A severe headache that comes on suddenly or a headache that doesn’t go away
- Confusion or slurred speech
- Seizures or loss of consciousness
- Stiff neck, or pain in the ear or eye
- Weakness or numbness
Don’t get a headache worrying about headaches
If you are a headache sufferer, there are many kinds of treatment options available. If your first treatment plan doesn’t work, try another. Your health care provider can recommend other treatments or strategies until you find the one that wipes that headache away.
You don’t have to live with headaches,” says Dr. Akhtar. “ It’s a very common condition, and there are several medical treatments available. “ medicine to take at the onset of HA , nasal sprays as well as injections, at the same times several options are also available to prevent them like monthly preventive injections and Botox injections.”