Everyone has had a headache. The causes of some are easy to place: hangover, sinus infection, allergies, caffeine withdrawal, fever or hunger. These are temporary conditions that can easily be alleviated. However, if you have more persistent headaches, it could be an indication of an underlying or chronic condition.
Migraine is a hereditary neurological condition that causes over-stimulation of certain areas in the brain. There’s a lot we still don’t know about migraines. Some patients are able to identify personal triggers (certain foods and smells or environmental stimuli), but not everyone has a clear trigger for migraine attacks.
There are two types of migraines: with and without aura. Migraines with aura are characterized as a severe headache that may include visual disturbances or numbness in one of the extremities. Migraines without aura are one-sided, throbbing headaches, typically accompanied by nausea, vomiting, cold hands and sensitivity to light and sound.
About 12% of Americans suffer from migraines. The condition is three times more likely to manifest in women than in men. Migraines can sometimes be treated with over-the-counter medications; in more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe a stronger drug, such a beta-blocker like Timolol.
Roughly 75% of the general population experience tension headaches. Symptoms of tension headaches include dull pain on both sides of the head and tightness in the neck or scalp. Pain associated with tension headaches remains steady — not throbbing or pulsing —and has a pressing or tightening sensation. Tension headaches can last anywhere between 30 minutes to a full week and may happen infrequently or daily.
Tension headaches are commonly believed to be caused by emotional distress or undiagnosed depression, and recent studies suggest there may be a neurobiological explanation for tension headaches. Because of these underlying causes, tension headaches are often treated with antidepressants as well as over-the-counter or prescription pain relief medications. Keep in mind that only a doctor can diagnose depression or other mood disorders.
These excruciating headaches are purported to be the most painful type of headache. Sufferers describe the pain as “sharp and boring” or “like a hot poker in the eye.” Cluster headaches cause extreme, stabbing pain around or behind the eye, and the affected eye will tear up and redden. Those with tension headaches may also have nasal congestion or a runny nose. Pain develops rapidly over the course of a few minutes and can last for 15 minutes to three hours. Men are twice as likely as women to get a cluster headache.
Unfortunately, cluster headaches are not treatable with over-the-counter medications. They can be incredibly debilitating and require preventative prescription drug management. If you think you may be suffering from cluster headaches, you should seek medical attention.
Aneurysm and Hypertension Headaches
Patients with an aneurysm exhibit symptoms comparable to migraines or cluster headaches, but the underlying cause is high blood pressure. An aneurysm is a bulge that develops in a blood vessel wall. If this bulge ruptures, it will cause a stroke. Otherwise, the aneurysm allows blood to slowly leak, which induces a sudden, agonizing headache, double vision, rigid neck, and unconsciousness. If discovered early, an aneurysm can be treated with surgery.
Hypertension headaches, while also caused by high blood pressure, are not as severe as an aneurysm. Symptoms of hypertension headaches are generalized, pressure-type pain that lessens as the day goes on. Hypertension headaches should be controlled with the help of a doctor and appropriate blood pressure medications.
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Headaches
TMJ headaches are the result of stress, jaw clenching or a poor bite. Sometimes people with TMJ headaches also experience a painful clicking when they open their jaw. In most instances, TMJ headaches can easily be treated with relaxation techniques, like meditation and yoga, and a bite plate. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to correct the individual’s bite.
Recurring headaches should be taken seriously. If you’re concerned about the severity or frequency of your headaches, consult a doctor.