Headache is one of the most common conditions that people complain about, and plagues the daily routine of a large number of people. A pain and discomfort in the head, scalp or neck is called a headache, and can occur in many different forms. And they can occur either on one side of the head or both sides, and can last from a few hours up to a few days.
How common is it?
It is a very common condition and research has shown that at least one in ten people around the world will end up having a headache at least once a year. Most of the time the headache is mild, but there are headaches that can be debilitating to the individual as well.
What are the causes of headache?
There are many different types of headaches that have been described by people. And as a result the causes of these different types of headaches also varies. The types of headaches include:
- Tension headaches – which has been described as a headache which feels like a tight band going around the head. They commonly occur in women and are caused by tightness in the muscles of the head and neck. This can be brought about by stress and poor posture. They last for a few hours and are recurrent
- Cluster headaches – they are headaches that cause a severe non-throbbing, burning pain either behind the eyes causing the eyes to tear, or on one side of the head. It can even lead to congestion of the nose on occasions. This type of headache is common in men between the ages of 20-40 and can last for cluster period which can be as long as 6 weeks. This type of headache is very rare.
- Migraine – is by far the most common headache that people experience and by far the most debilitating as well. It is a severe throbbing headache that develops on one side of the head. Migraines are more common in women than in men. There are two types of migraine headaches, migraine with aura and migraine without aura. Aura consists of visual disturbances such as bright spots and flashes of light that appear about half an hour before the onset of the headache. Migraine with aura is the type that is common among people and is less severe than migraine without aura. Migraines have three phases, the prodrome which is the time leading up to the headache where the aura occurs. Then you have the peak headache, where the pain is most severe and this can last about 15-30 minutes. And then you have the postdrome which is the 24-hour period following the headache. Drowsiness and mood swings are common feature during this period.
Signs and symptoms:
Headaches are normally considered a part of life and usually do not indicate toward a life threatening disease. But there are a few associated symptoms that are thought to be red flag signs and should raise concern. These include:
- Headaches that develop following a fall
- Early morning headaches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Facial numbness
- Slurring of speech
- Weakness of a limb
How is it diagnosed?
Usually the diagnosis of the type of headache is made using a clinical evaluation of the patient and the history that you give, such as the onset, the character of the headache as well as the associated symptoms such as the presence of aura. With these details a doctor can come to a diagnosis about the type of headache you are experiencing.
If your doctor does suspect that there is an underlying medical cause for the headache then, they might order certain other tests as well, such as:
- Full blood count – a blood test that measured the level of red cells and white cells in your blood
- An X-ray of the skull – this will provide an image of the skull bones as well as the sinuses present in the head. Therefore you doctor will be able to confirm whether you have an underlying sinusitis that is causing the headache or not.
- A CT scan or MRI scan of the head – which involves you lying flat on your back and being sent into a chamber, where there will be either X-rays or Magnetic rays which will be passed across, getting detailed images of your head. This is done only if your doctor suspects that you have a serious condition such a stroke or brain tumor.
Treating the condition:
The treatment of headaches varies according to the cause. General measures that can be applied to any type of headache include:
- A hot shower, which will help relax the tensed muscles
- A hot or cold pack to your head for about 10 minutes multiple times a day.
- Exercise, which will help increase the release of certain chemicals within the brain and makes you feel more relaxed.
- Acupuncture is another method by which you can relieve the tension in your muscles by the application of fine needles in various parts of your body.
- Behavior therapy as well as stress management classes can also help.
- Tension headaches and cluster headaches are commonly treated with over the counter pain killers such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen.
- The drug of choice in treating migraine headaches is Sumatriptan, which is also used as a preventive measure. This drug is prescribed only if the headache appears more than three times a month.
Long term care:
This includes reviewing drugs on a regular basis in order to make sure that you are not taking any medication unnecessarily. During a follow up session a doctor should always inquire about the development of any new symptoms, such as the red flag signs.
How to prevent the condition?
Preventive measure include proper stress management as well taking your medication on time when it comes to control of migraine headaches.