Updated: May 27
Everyone knows what a terrible headache feels like. You might wake up with a headache that insists on staying with you the entire day, even after you took some over-the-counter medication to stop it. Or maybe it just appears out of nowhere and disappears without you noticing. There are many types of headaches and many reasons for them to appear. From dehydration, infections, injuries, and tumors, the list is as broad as you can imagine. Here you will learn about the most common types of headaches and their associated symptoms and when to seek immediate medical attention.
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What is a headache?
A headache is a sensation of pain in your head or face that can affect it entirely or locally. There are many reasons for a headache to manifest. And many times, other symptoms can accompany it. Some headaches can be very mild with no major clinical significance, while others can be life-threatening.
Most common types of headaches
There are more than 150 different types of headaches. Here you will learn about the most common types. Among them, we have tension headaches, migraine headaches, and cluster headaches.
This is the most common type of headache. It can make you feel like if you have a tight band around your head, and there could be tension spreading to your neck too. Most of them last from 30 minutes to several hours. But when it happens in a frequency of 15 days or more during three months, then it has become chronic. It can be treated with over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin.
Although this one occurs less often than tension headaches, its presentation is usually more severe. The pain is described as pounding and throbbing. It is often accompanied by lightheadedness, sensitivity to light and/or sound, and nausea/vomiting. The migraine attack can last up to 24 hours. This type of headache might respond to over-the-counter medications like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen if the treatment is started immediately. When they don’t work, then the option is to try with prescribed medications like sumatriptan and zolmitriptan. Usually, you will receive treatment to prevent migraine attacks like beta-blockers, antidepressants, and antiseizure medications.
Cluster headaches are more severe than migraines. It presents with pain behind or around one eye which also can be watery and reddened. The nose can get stuffy or blocked on the same side of the affected eye. It happens in clusters from one to eight episodes a day, which can last from 15 minutes to 1 hour each. They present from one to three months in a year and can repeat in one to two years. One of the treatment options is oxygen. It has to be given right after the onset of the attack. Another option is sumatriptan in its injectable form. Some people respond to nasal drops of lidocaine. Other options for treatment are available also. As a way of prevention, the most effective is a calcium-channel blocker called verapamil. But other drugs might help too.
Red alert symptoms
There are some things that you need to pay attention to when you experience a headache. If these symptoms are new to you, seek medical attention immediately, since they might be a more serious condition:
Sudden severe headache that many people describe as “the worst headache of my life”.
A headache that happens after a head injury.
A headache associated with a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizure, double vision, vomiting, weakness or paralysis in any area of your body, numbness, or difficulty speaking.
What to do?
First, if you have any of the above red alert symptoms, please seek medical help immediately. Generally speaking, it would be helpful for you to keep a diary of the frequency and the triggers of your headaches. This way, your doctor will have a more complete picture of what is happening in your case and make a more accurate diagnosis with a plan of treatment for you.
Headaches can be very debilitating and interfere in every aspect of your daily life. The more you know about your type of headache, the better prepared you will be to help yourself. And, don’t forget to stay tuned for the next topic in this blog.
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2. 14 Types of Headaches and How to Treat Them. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/headache/types-of-headaches/ Accessed on January 23, 2022.
3. Headaches: Treatment depends on your diagnosis and symptoms. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-daily-headaches/in-depth/headaches/art-20047375/ Accessed on January 23, 2022.
4. What is causing this headache? MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/73936/ Accessed on January 23, 2022.
5. Headache Basics. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraines-headaches-basics/ Accessed on January 23, 2022Most.
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