Information and Support
What are the different types of headaches?
There are two different categories for headaches: primary and secondary. Primary headache is an actual clinical condition and not a symptom of or caused by another disorder. Primary headaches include migraine, tension-type headache, and cluster headache. Secondary headaches are caused by other medical conditions, such as sinus disease, allergies, dental disorders, head injury, or brain tumors.
A migraine headache usually lasts one day and recurs once to several times per month. Typical migraine headaches are one-sided, pulsating, moderate or severe pain, worse with activity, and associated with nausea and sensitivity to light and/or noise. Some patients experience an aura (a neurological symptom that gradually develops over 5 to 20 minutes and usually lasts less than 60 minutes) before their headache.
- Tension Type
A tension-type headache is a recurrent headache that can last minutes to days. The pain often is described as pressing or tightening, of mild or moderate intensity, felt on both sides of the head, and does NOT worsen with physical activity. Tension-type headache is usually not associated with nausea or sensitivity to light or noise.
- Chronic Daily
Like the name implies, chronic daily headaches can occur every day or almost daily. Features of the headache could be those of migraine, tension type, cluster or a combination.
Cluster headaches recur daily or almost daily for a period of usually 4 to 8 weeks. The headache increases in intensity within 10 to 15 minutes and lasts for 30 to 45 minutes. Attacks may occur one or more times per day and frequently awake the sufferer from sleep. Headache is almost always one sided, and the most common sites of pain are around the eye, temple, and side of the head. Cluster periods typically recur every 1 to 2 years. Rarely is it chronic with no periods of remission.
Sinus headaches are caused by sinus infection or some other irritation inside the sinus cavities of the face and head.
Increased use or overuse of painkillers and other analgesics can lead to dependency, causing headaches when drug levels taper.
Who suffers from headache?
Headache is among the most common pain complaint seen in primary care doctors' offices. As many as 45 million Americans suffer from headaches. Tension-type and migraine headaches are the most common, and cluster headache is the most rare. It is important to seek medical care for headaches because, if treated correctly, more than 85% of headaches will respond to treatment.
What causes headaches?
Headaches have a tendency to run in families. Specifically, inherited patterns are seen clearly with some types of migraine. Children of migraine sufferers also are more likely to experience migraine headaches. This is why family history is important when evaluating someone with headache.
Headaches can be triggered or made more severe when sufferers are exposed to specific environmental factors, such as strong odors like cigarette smoke or perfume. Specific aspects of one's diet (beverages, meals, snacks) also may trigger headache. For example, low blood sugar as seen with prolonged fasting or extensive dieting may lead to increased headaches.
Common Environmental Triggers
- Weather changes
Common Dietary Triggers
- Nitrates and MSG
- Alcohol (red wine, champagne)
- Caffeine (coffee, tea, cola)
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