Beginner’s Guide To Headache Types

Factors, Treatment, Prevention and Signs That Your Headache Requires Medical Attention

Did You Know? Headaches are the most common form of pain that necessitates a visit to the doctor. But many people don’t visit their physician concerning this ailment, and instead rely on over-the-counter medication. While this is a fine short-term fix, it isn’t a sustainable course of action for some conditions. With chronic headaches, it won’t be long before the recommended dosage doesn’t help with headache pain. Exceeding the recommended dosage of medicine for your pain can even cause a headache!

Most often, when your head hurts, you have a tension headache. Often related to stress, depression or anxiety, tension headaches are due to tight muscles in your shoulders, neck or jaw. Lack of sleep, alcohol use, and hunger can cause tension headaches, as can many of the stresses of everyday life.

Not every headache needs to be checked out by your doctor, of course. But the Headache Center at ADC would like to see you if any of these following statements are true for your headache. You should seek treatment in the following circumstances:

  • Sudden onset of excruciating pain
  • First or worst headache of your life
  • Worsening pattern of headaches
  • Fever associated with a headache
  • Rapid onset of headache with strenuous exercise
  • Any change in mental status or level of consciousness
  • New headache in patients under 5 or over 50

There are a number of other common types of headaches. Let’s look at each type and corresponding factors for each.

Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches are caused by acute infection – usually with fever – producing blockage of sinus ducts. This blockage prevents normal drainage causing a gnawing pain over the nasal area. Often the pain increase in severity throughout the course of the day. Sinus headaches are rare, but migraine and cluster headaches are often misdiagnosed as sinus in origin.

  • Precipitating Factors: Infection, nasal polyps, anatomical deformities, such as deviated septum that blocks the sinus ducts
  • Treatment: Treat with antibiotics, decongestants, surgical drainage, if necessary
  • Prevention: None

Arthritis Headaches

Inflammation of the blood vessels of the head or bony changes in the structures of the neck is the cause of an arthritis headaches. They are recognizable by the pain at the back of head or neck which intensifies on movement.

  • Precipitating Factors: Cause of pain is unknown
  • Treatment: Anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants
  • Prevention: None

Caffeine-Withdrawal Headaches

Caffeine withdrawal headaches are real. They can occur multiple days after consumption of large quantities of caffeine. This headache is a throbbing headache caused by rebound dilation of the blood vessels.

  • Precipitating Factors: Caffeine
  • Treatment: Treat by terminating caffeine consumption in extreme cases.
  • Prevention: Avoiding excess use of caffeine.

Depression and Headaches

Depression is closely linked to chronic pain in the body – including migraine headaches, severe non-migraine headaches, and lower back pain.

  • Precipitating Factors: Causes can originate from a wide variety of complaints. Causes of depression are often categorized as physical, emotional, and psychic.
  • Treatment: Depression is a widespread affliction that can be treated. But diagnosing the presence of depression is frequently missed. Once discovered, however, there are many options for relief.
  • Prevention: Physicians can prescribe tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or monoamine oxidize inhibitors in the treatment of headaches associated with depression.

Exertional Headaches

Symptoms of exertional headaches include generalized head pain of short duration (minutes to an hour). They occur during or following physical exertion (running, jumping, or sexual intercourse). Passive exertion (sneezing, coughing, moving one’s bowels, etc.) can also bring on these types of headaches.

  • Precipitating Factors: Most (around ninety percent) are related to migraine or cluster headaches. In some cases, exertional headaches may be caused by organic diseases. Your doctor may look for signs of aneurysms, tumors, or blood vessel malformation.
  • Treatment: Extensive testing is necessary to determine the headache cause. Once determined, these are most commonly treated with aspiring, indomethacin, or propranolol. Surgery is occasionally the best way to correct the organic disease.
  • Prevention: Alternative forms of exercise; avoid jarring exercises

Fever Headaches

Fever headaches include generalized head pain that develops with fever, caused by the swelling of the blood vessels of the head.

  • Precipitating Factors: Caused by infection
  • Treatment: Aspirin; acetaminophen; NSAIDs; antibiotics
  • Prevention: None

Hangover Headaches

Migraine-like symptoms of throbbing pain and nausea, but it is not localized to one side. Hangovers can last up to 72 hours after drinking, but most are shorter in duration. Many personal and temporal factors drive the status of these types of headaches including: how much was consumed, level of dehydration, nutritional status, ethnicity, gender, the state of your liver, medications, etc.

  • Precipitating Factors: Alcohol, which causes dilation and irritation of the blood vessels of the brain and surrounding tissue.
  • Treatment: Liquids (including broth); consumption of fructose (honey, tomato juice are a good source)
  • Prevention: Drink alcohol only in moderation

Hunger Headaches

A hunger headache is exactly as it sounds. A lack of proper nourishment causes muscle tension, low blood sugar, and rebound dilation of the blood vessels.

  • Precipitating Factors: Strenuous dieting or skipping meals
  • Treatment: Regular, nourishing meals containing adequate protein and complex carbohydrates
  • Prevention: Regular, nourishing meals containing adequate protein and complex carbohydrates

Hypertension Headaches

Very high blood pressure can trigger an event known as malignant hypertension, or a hypertensive crisis. This is most recognizable with generalized or “hair band” type pain that is most severe in the morning. It diminishes throughout the day.

Malignant hypertension usually is also associated with blurred vision, chest pain, and nausea. Read more about hypertension here.

  • Precipitating Factors: Severe hypertension: over 200 systolic and 110 diastolic
  • Treatment: Treat with appropriate blood pressure medication
  • Prevention: Keep blood pressure under control

Menstrual Headaches

For some women, Migraine-type pain occurs shortly before, during, or immediately after menstruation. For other women, this pain happens at mid-cycle (at the time of ovulation). The cause or trigger is thought to be the change of the level of estrogen. The blood level of this chemical (hormone) falls just before a period.

  • Note: A menstrual headache does not mean a low estrogen level. It is the natural dip of the hormone level that causes the pain.
  • Precipitating Factors: Variances in estrogen levels
  • Treatment: Taking a magnesium supplement might make your headaches shorter and your periods easier. Before beginning a new supplement, discuss this with a doctor. Limiting dietary salt before a period starts will reduce excess water in the body, which could create extra pressure.
  • Prevention: Biofeedback; beta blockers (propranolol, timolol); anti-convulsant (divalproex sodium); calcium blockers; and NSAIDs

Chronic Daily Headaches

This refers to a broad range of headache disorders occurring more than 15 days a month. These headaches are categorized by duration of pain (less than four hours and more than four hours).

  • Precipitating Factors: Typically evolve from transformed migraine. Can be associated with medication overuse. They are not related to chronic tension-type headache, but can evolve from episodic tension-type headaches.
  • Treatment: Depending on the type of CDH, different treatment options exist. It is important to limit analgesic use.
  • Prevention: Based on diagnosis of headache, how long they last, and the number experienced per month. This requires extensive doctor or specialist intervention.

Finding out what triggers a headache or migraine may help to avoid or lessen the effects of headache symptoms. Also, we would love to help. Contact us if you need to schedule an appointment or have any further questions.

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Video: What You Need To Know About Migraine Headaches

Video: How To Effectively Treat Headaches

From The Headache Center at ADC

Featuring Tiffany Ferrell RN, MSN, FNPC

About The Headache Center at ADC

Headache Center at Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic, P.A.

Click to learn more about The Headache Center

  • Many people suffer headaches on a daily basis.
  • There are many kinds of headache including the following: Migraine, Tension, Cluster, Chronic Daily or Rebound Headaches.
  • Seek help immediately if you are experiencing sudden or excruciating headache pain, or if it’s the first or worst headache of your life.
  • If a headache is causing you to have a sudden change in mood or personality, seek help immediately.
  • A proper diagnosis is crucial for determining headache treatments. That’s why we’ve designed the Headache Center.
  • The Headache Center treatments include: Abortive, Preventative and Physical Therapies.
  • The Headache Center can also use more aggressive treatments including: Nerve Blocks and Botox Therapy.