A look at headaches and headache prevention.

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Nothing puts a damper on things quite like a headache. Whether it’s your personal life or your professional one, you just can’t be your fullest while you have one.

Most headaches aren’t the result of a serious illness, but some may result from a life-threatening condition requiring emergency care. Your headache symptoms can help your doctor determine the cause and the appropriate treatment.

Headaches are generally classified by cause:

Primary Headaches

A primary headache is caused by problems with or overactivity of pain-sensitive structures in your head. A primary headache isn’t a symptom of an underlying disease. Chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels of your head outside your skull, or muscles of your head and neck — or some combination of these factors — may play a role in primary headaches. Some people may carry genes that make them more likely to develop such headaches.

The most common primary headaches are:

Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches occur in cyclical patterns or clusters, which gives the condition its name. Cluster headache is one of the most painful types of headache.

Cluster headache commonly awakens you in the middle of the night with intense pain in or around one eye on one side of your head.

Bouts of frequent attacks, known as cluster periods, may last from weeks to months, usually followed by remission periods when the headache attacks stop completely. During remission, no headaches occur for months and sometimes even years.

Fortunately, cluster headache is rare and not life-threatening. Treatments can help make cluster headache attacks shorter and less severe. In addition, medications can help reduce the number of cluster headaches.

Migraine

A migraine headache can cause intense throbbing or a pulsing sensation in one area of the head and is commonly accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.

Migraine attacks can cause significant pain for hours to days and be so severe that all you can think about is finding a dark, quiet place to lie down.

Some migraines are preceded or accompanied by sensory warning symptoms (aura), such as flashes of light, blind spots, or tingling in your arm or leg.

Medications can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. If treatment hasn’t worked for you in the past, talk to your doctor about trying a different migraine headache medication. The right medicines, combined with self-help remedies and lifestyle changes, may make a big difference.

Tension Headache
(medically known as tension-type headache)

A tension headache is generally a diffuse, mild to moderate pain in your head that’s often described as feeling like a tight band around your head. A tension headache (tension-type headache) is the most common type of headache, and yet its causes aren’t well understood.

Treatments for tension headaches are available. Managing a tension headache is often a balance between fostering healthy habits, finding effective non-drug treatments and using medications appropriately.

There are other headache patterns that are generally considered types of primary headache but are less common. These headaches have distinct features, such as an unusual duration or pain associated with a certain activity. Although these headaches are generally considered primary, each of them could be a symptom of an underlying disease. These headaches include:

Chronic Daily Headaches

Most people have headaches from time to time. But if you have a headache more days than not, you may be experiencing chronic daily headaches.

The incessant nature of chronic daily headaches makes them among the most disabling headaches. Aggressive initial treatment and steady, long-term management may reduce pain and lead to fewer headaches.

Cough Headaches

Cough headaches are an unusual type of headache triggered by coughing and other types of straining — such as from sneezing, blowing your nose, laughing, crying, singing, bending over or having a bowel movement.

Doctors divide cough headaches into two categories. Primary cough headaches are usually harmless, occur in limited episodes and eventually improve on their own. Secondary cough headaches are more serious, as they can be caused by problems within the brain. Treatment of secondary cough headaches may require surgery.

Exercise headaches

Exercise headaches occur during or after sustained, strenuous exercise. Some activities associated with exercise headaches include running, rowing, tennis, swimming and weightlifting.

Doctors divide exercise headaches into two categories. Primary exercise headaches are usually harmless, aren’t connected to any underlying problems and can often be prevented with medication.

Secondary exercise headaches are caused by an underlying, often serious problem within the brain — such as bleeding or a tumor — or outside the brain — such as coronary artery disease. Secondary exercise headaches may require emergency medical attention.

Sex Headaches

Sex headaches are brought on by sexual activity — especially an orgasm. You may notice a dull ache in your head and neck that builds up as sexual excitement increases. Or, more commonly, you may experience a sudden, severe headache just before or during orgasm.

Most sex headaches are nothing to worry about. But some can be a sign of something serious, such as problems with the blood vessels that feed your brain.

Some primary headaches can be triggered by lifestyle factors, including:

  • Alcohol, particularly red wine
  • Certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates
  • Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
  • Poor posture
  • Skipped meals
  • Stress

Preventative and Abortive Treatment Options:

  • Medication to prevent or relieve the pain
  • Physical therapy referrals
  • Botox therapy
  • Occipital nerve blocks

Don’t live another day with uncontrollable headaches. Visit our Headache Center page for more information on headaches and to schedule an appointment

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