Headaches

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What are Headaches?

Headaches are a common ailment that affects many Americans. They can be quite debilitating. While most headaches are benign in nature, it is always important to make sure it is not a symptom of a life threatening condition; for example, High Blood Pressure.

A Headache is defined as a pain in the head or upper neck. It is one of the most common locations of pain in the body and has many causes. In fact, there are several different types of headaches.

Migraines and other types of headache — such as tension headache and sinus headache — are painful and can rob you of quality of life. Migraine symptoms include a pounding headache, nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity.Headache remedies include various types of pain relievers. Migraine treatments may also include anti-nausea drugs and medications to prevent or stop headaches.

Tension headaches are the most common, and generally affect adults and adolescents. During a tension headache, there may be muscle tightness in specific parts of the head, scalp and/or neck – these areas are uncomfortable and often painful.

Migraine headches are the second most common type of primary headache. An estimated 28 million people in the United States (about 12% of the population) will experience a migraine headache. Migraine headaches affect children as well as adults. It is estimated that 6% of men and up to 18% of women will experience a migraine headache in their lifetime.
Common types of headache:

  • benign exertional headache
  • bilious headache
  • blind headache
  • cluster headache
  • coital headache
  • drug-induced headache
  • fibrositic headache
  • histaminic headache
  • Horton headache
  • ice pick headache
  • idiopathic stabbing headache
  • medication-overuse headache
  • migraine headache
  • migraine without headache
  • muscle contraction headache
  • nodular headache
  • organic headache
  • posttraumatic headache
  • reflex headache
  • sick headache
  • spinal headache
  • symptomatic headache
  • tension headache
  • tension-type headache
  • thunderclap headache
  • vacuum headache
  • vascular headache

There are 150 different types of headaches. The most common ones are:

Tension headaches: Also called stress headaches, chronic daily headaches, or chronic non-progressive headaches, they are the most common type among adults and teens. They cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over time.

Migraines: These headaches are often described as pounding, throbbing pain. As a result they can last from 4 hours to 3 days and usually happen one to four times per month. Along with the pain, people have other symptoms, such as sensitivity to light, noise, or smells; nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite; and upset stomach or belly pain. When a child has a migraine, she often looks pale, feels dizzy, and has blurry vision, fever, and an upset stomach.

Consequently a  small percentage of children’s migraines include digestive symptoms, like vomiting, that happen about once a month. They’re sometimes called abdominal migraines.

Mixed headache syndrome: Also called transformed migraines, this condition is a mix of migraine and tension headaches. Both adults and children can have it.

Cluster headaches: This type is intense and feels like a burning or piercing pain behind the eyes, either throbbing or constant. It’s the least common but the most severe type of headache. The pain can be so bad that most people with cluster headaches can’t sit still and will often pace during an attack.

As a result they’re called “cluster headaches” because they tend to happen in groups. You might get them one to three times per day during a cluster period, which may last 2 weeks to 3 months. The headaches may disappear completely (go into “remission”) for months or years, only to come back again.

Sinus headaches: Consequently with these, you feel a deep and constant pain in your cheekbones, forehead, or bridge of your nose. They happen when cavities in your head, called sinuses, get inflamed. The pain usually comes along with other sinus symptoms, such as a runny nose, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and swelling in your face.

Acute headaches: Kids get these headaches that start suddenly and go away after a short time. If there are no symptoms of other nerve problems, the most common cause is a respiratory or sinus infection.

Hormone headaches: Women can get headaches from changing hormone levels during their periods, pregnancy, and menopause. The hormone changes from birth control pills also trigger headaches in some women.

Chronic progressive headaches: Also called traction or inflammatory headaches, these get worse and happen more often over time. They make up less than 5% of all headaches in adults and less than 2% of all headaches in kids. They may be the result of an illness or disorder of the brain or skull.

What Causes Headaches?

The pain you feel during a headache comes from a mix of signals between your brain, blood vessels, and nearby nerves. Specific nerves of the blood vessels and head muscles switch on and send pain signals to your brain. But it’s not clear why these signals turn on in the first place.

People often get headaches because of:

Illness: such as an infection, cold, or fever. They’re also common with conditions like sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), a throat infection, or an ear infection. In some cases, the headaches may be the result of a blow to the head or rarely, a sign of a more serious medical problem.

Stress: Common causes of tension headaches include emotional stress and depression as well as alcohol use, skipping meals, changes in sleeppatterns, and taking too much medication. Other causes include eyestrain and neck or back strain due to poor posture.

Your environment, including secondhand tobacco smoke, strong smells from household chemicals or perfumes, allergens, and certain foods. Stress, pollution, noise, lighting, and weather changes are other possible triggers.

Headaches, especially migraines, tend to run in families. Most children and teens (90%) who have migraines have other family members who get them. When both parents have a history of migraines, there is a 70% chance that their child will also have them. If only one parent has a history of these headaches, the risk drops to 25%-50%.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes migraines. A popular theory is that triggers cause unusual brain activity, which causes changes in the blood vessels there. Some forms of migraines are linked to genetic problems in certain parts of the brain.

Too much physical activity can also trigger a migraine in adults and children.

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