The Essentials of Headache: Causes and Care

The Essentials of Headache: Causes and Care

By-Dr Amit Shrivastav, Director and Head of Department, Neurology, Yatharth Hospital, Greater Noida

Dr Amit Srivastav YGN

Headaches are among the most widespread neurological complaints worldwide, with half of the global population experiencing at least one headache annually. Defined as pain originating from the head or upper neck, headaches can radiate to the eyes, face, shoulders, and arms. Contrary to conventional wisdom, headache pain does not actually arise from the brain itself but from the surrounding tissues and structures.

Types of Headaches

There are approximately 200 types of headaches, broadly classified into primary and secondary headaches.

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches include tension-type headaches, migraines, and the rare cluster headaches, making up about 90% of all headaches.

Tension-Type Headaches: The most common type, often affecting women more than men, is often exacerbated by stressful and sedentary lifestyles. Symptoms include mild to moderate band-like tightness around the head, sleep difficulties, chronic fatigue, disturbed concentration, and muscle aches.

Migraines: These affect children and adults, with a higher prevalence in women post-puberty. Symptoms include moderate to severe throbbing pain on one side of the head, nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity.

Cluster Headaches: These rare headaches typically affect men in their late 20s but can also occur in women and children. They manifest quickly with excruciating pain around one eye, excessive tearing, and facial sweating. Cluster headaches can trigger strokes, especially migraines with aura.

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches stem from underlying structural issues in the head or neck, encompassing a broad spectrum of medical conditions. These range from dental or sinus infections to severe ailments like brain bleeding or infections such as encephalitis or meningitis.

Traumatic headaches, including post-concussion headaches, also fall into this category, alongside headaches linked to substance abuse or excessive use of headache medications. Additionally, “hangover” headaches result from alcohol consumption, compounded by alcohol’s effects and dehydration.

Identifying Serious Headaches

Differentiating between benign primary headaches and potentially dangerous secondary headaches is paramount. Red flags indicating sinister headaches encompass various symptoms, including a severe and swiftly advancing headache, coupled with additional indicators such as fever, drowsiness, double vision, projectile vomiting, or focal weakness. Furthermore, a notable escalation in headache intensity or frequency, particularly in individuals already diagnosed with headache disorders, warrants careful attention as it could signify an underlying and potentially serious medical condition

Effective Headache Management Involves Lifestyle Changes and Medical Treatments

Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and other methods can help manage headaches, while regular physical activity promotes a healthy lifestyle and reduces stress. Additionally, managing stress by avoiding stressful situations and noisy environments can prevent severe headaches. Massaging the neck and temples can also help as it improves blood circulation. Monitoring one’s diet and limiting caffeine and alcohol intake can also reduce the frequency and severity of headaches.

Contrary to the belief that migraines are untreatable, significant advancements in migraine treatment offer effective prophylactic medications and interventions. Combining relaxation techniques, avoiding triggers, meditation, biofeedback, stress relief, and a disciplined lifestyle can significantly control the frequency and intensity of migraines.

Frequent use of painkillers for headaches can lead to Medication Overuse Headache (MOH), a condition challenging to treat and with significant side effects. Long-term headache relief requires proper management rather than habitual painkiller use.

Most headaches are benign and can be managed effectively through lifestyle changes and medications. Stress is a common cause, but it’s crucial to identify and address secondary headaches promptly. Consulting a specialist for serious headache symptoms is essential for timely and appropriate treatment.

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