Although headaches can be defined as pain “in any region of the head”, the cause, duration, and intensity of this pain can vary according to the type of headache.
Headaches can be more complicated than most people realize. Different kinds can have their own set of symptoms, happen for unique reasons, and need different kinds of treatment.
Once you know the type of headache you have, you and your doctor can find the treatment that’s most likely to help and even try to prevent them.
Your headache symptoms can help your doctor determine its cause and the appropriate treatment. Most headaches aren’t the result of a serious illness, but some may result from a life-threatening condition requiring emergency care.
A headache can occur in any part of the head, on both sides of the head, or in just one location.
Migraine headache is caused by inflammation or irritation of structures that surround the brain or affect its function. While the brain itself has no pain nerve fibers, everything else above the shoulders, from the neck, skull, and face, can cause a person to have of head pain. Systemic illnesses, including infection or dehydration, can have associated headache. These are known as toxic headache. Changes in circulation and blood flow or trauma can also cause headache.
Changes in brain chemistry may also be associated with headache: medication reactions, drug abuse and drug withdrawal can all cause pain.
Every person is different so the history of the headache is important. Recognizing patterns or precipitating (foods eaten, stress, etc.) factors, in combination with the physical examination and associated symptoms, can help identify the cause for each individual’s specific headache.
The International Headache Society (IHS) categorize headaches as primary, when they are not caused by another condition, or secondary, when there is a further underlying cause.
Primary headaches are stand-alone illnesses caused directly by the overactivity of, or problems with, structures in the head that are pain-sensitive.
This includes the blood vessels, muscles, and nerves of the head and neck. They may also result from changes in chemical activity in the brain.
Common primary headaches include migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches.
Secondary headaches are symptoms that happen when another condition stimulates the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. In other words, the headache symptoms can be attributed to another cause.
A wide range of different factors can cause secondary headaches.
Eating something very cold can lead to a “brain freeze.”
- alcohol-induced hangover
- Eating something very cold can lead to a “brain freeze.”
- brain tumor
- blood clots
- bleeding in or around the brain
- “brain freeze,” or ice-cream headaches
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- teeth-grinding at night
- overuse of pain medication, known as rebound headaches
- panic attacks
As headaches can be a symptom of a serious condition, it is important to seek medical advice if they become more severe, regular, or persistent.
For example, if a headache is more painful and disruptive than previous headaches, worsens, or fails to improve with medication or is accompanied by other symptoms such as confusion, fever, sensory changes, and stiffness in the neck, a doctor should be contacted immediately.
Types of headaches
Many of us are familiar with some form of the throbbing, uncomfortable, and distracting pain of a headache. The World Health Organization points out that nearly everyone experiences a headache once in a while.
Although headaches can be defined as pain “in any region of the head,” the cause, duration, and intensity of this pain can vary according to the type of headache.
In some cases, a headache may require immediate medical attention. Seek immediate medical care if you’re experiencing any of the following alongside your headache:
- stiff neck
- the worst headache you’ve ever had
- slurred speech
- any fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
- paralysis in any part of your body or visual loss
If your headache is less severe, read on to learn how to identify the type of headache you may be experiencing and what you can do to ease your symptoms.
How do you get rid of a headache – home remedies
It is important to consider that an unusual headache may need to be evaluated by a health-care professional, but in most instances, primary tension headaches may be initially treated at home.
- First steps include maximizing rest and staying well hydrated.
- Recognizing and minimizing stressful situations may be of help, if that is one of the contributing causes of the headache.
- If there has been a cold or runny nose recently, humidifying air may be helpful in allowing sinuses to drain.
- Rubbing or massaging the temples or the muscles at the back of the neck may be soothing, as might warm compresses.
- Over-the-counter pain medication may be helpful, in moderation.
Those with migraine headaches often have a treatment plan that will allow treatment at home. Prescription medications are available to abort or stop the headache. Other medications are available to treat the nausea and vomiting. Most patients with migraine headaches get much relief after resting in a dark room and falling asleep.