Headache, also known as cephalalgia, is the symptom of pain anywhere in the region of the head or neck. It is a continuous pain in the head and it is almost a universal experience. Most of us have some kind of headache at some time in our lives.
Headaches are extremely common – most people have a headache at some time in their life. Most headaches disappear on their own (with a little time) or with the help of mild pain relievers. Although most headaches are mild and temporary annoyances, some people have headaches that are so severe they need to consult a doctor for pain relief.
Children can also have headaches, some well before they reach the age of 10. that before puberty, headaches are more common in boys, but that trend is reversed after puberty. Adult women experience more headaches than adult men, and they’re often linked to a woman’s menstrual cycle. With advancing age, both women and men tend to have fewer, less severe headaches.
Although headaches can be painful and debilitating, they are usually not due to dangerous conditions. However, headaches can occasionally be a sign of something more serious. Very severe high blood pressure (above 180/110 mm Hg), stroke, brain tumour, or an aneurysm (a dilated weakened blood vessel) in the brain may cause headaches. Meningitis (an infection of the brain’s lining) may also cause a headache. Warning signs are a sudden onset of headache accompanied by fever, stiff neck, and visual problems (double vision).
See a doctor immediately if you experience any of these
• gets worse over days or weeks
• is accompanied by impaired neurological function (e.g., loss of balance, weakness, numbness, or speech disturbance) and double vision (could signal a stroke)
• is accompanied by persistent nausea and vomiting
• is accompanied by seizures, mental disturbances, and loss of consciousness
• is associated with a fever or stiff neck (could signal meningitis)
• is different than the usual pattern of headaches you have experienced
• strikes suddenly with great intensity
• wakes you from sleep or is worse when you lie down.
Headaches come in various forms , tension, migraine, sinus, and cluster headaches. In a small number of cases, headaches may signal a more serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. It occurs in migraines, tension-type headaches and cluster headaches . Frequent headaches can affect relationships and employment .There is also an increased risk of depression in those with severe headaches.
Headaches can occur as a result of many conditions whether serious or not. There are a number of different classification systems for headaches. Causes of headaches may include
• sleep deprivation,
• the effects of medications,
• the effects of recreational drugs,
• viral infections,
• common colds,
• head injury,
• rapid ingestion of a very cold food or beverage,
• and dental or sinus issues.
Treatment of a headache depends on the underlying cause, but commonly involves pain medication. Some form of headache is one of the most commonly experienced of all physical discomforts.
There are two main types of headaches :. Headaches are broadly classified as “primary” or “secondary “.
• Primary headaches are benign, recurrent headaches not caused by underlying disease or structural problems. For example, migraine , is a type of primary headache. While primary headaches may cause significant daily pain and disability, they are not dangerous.
• Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying disease, like an infection and head injury , vascular disorders , tumors. Secondary headaches can be harmless or dangerous. Certain “red flags” or warning signs indicate a secondary headache may be dangerous.
Headaches are generally classified by cause
A primary headache is caused by over activity of or problems with pain-sensitive structures in your head. A primary headache isn’t a symptom of an underlying disease.
Chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull, or the muscles of your head and neck (or some combination of these factors) can play a role in primary headaches. Some people may also carry genes that make them more likely to develop such headaches.
The most common primary headaches are
1. Cluster headache
2. Migraine (with and without aura)
3. Tension headache (also known as tension-type headache)
A few headache patterns also are generally considered types of primary headache, but are less common. These headaches have distinct features, such as an unusual duration or pain associated with a certain activity.
Although generally considered primary, each could be a symptom of an underlying disease. They include:
1. Chronic daily headaches (for example, chronic migraine, chronic tension-type headache, or hemicranias continua)
2. Cough headaches
3. Exercise headaches
4. Sex headaches
Some primary headaches can be triggered by lifestyle factors, including:
1. Alcohol, particularly red wine
2. Certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates
3. Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
4. Poor posture
5. Skipped meals
Headaches in women are often caused by hormones, and many women notice a link with their periods. The combined contraceptive pill, the menopause and pregnancy are also potential triggers. Reducing your stress levels, having a regular sleeping pattern, and ensuring you don’t miss meals may help reduce headaches associated with your menstrual cycle.
A secondary headache is a symptom of a disease that can activate the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. Any number of conditions , varying greatly in severity , may cause secondary headaches.
Possible causes of secondary headaches include:
1. Acute sinusitis
2. Arterial tears
3. Blood clot
4. Brain aneurysm (a bulge in an artery in your brain)
5. An abnormal formation of brain blood vessels
6. Brain tumor
7. Carbon monoxide poisoning
8. Malformation(structural problem at the base of your skull)
11. Dental problems
12. Ear infection (middle ear)
13. Brain inflammation)
14. Inflammation of the lining of the arteries
15. Glaucoma Hangovers
16. High blood pressure
17. Influenza (flu) and other febrile (fever) illnesses
18. Blood vessel ruptures with bleeding in or around the brain
19. Medications to treat other disorders
20. Meningitis – inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord)
21. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
22. Overuse of pain medication
23. Panic attacks and panic disorder
24. Pressure from tight headgear, such as a helmet or goggles
Some types of secondary headaches include
1. External compression headaches (a result of pressure-causing headgear)
2. Ice cream headaches commonly called brain freeze)
3. Rebound headaches (caused by overuse of pain medication)
4. Sinus headaches (caused by inflammation and congestion in sinus cavities)
5. Spinal headaches (caused by low pressure or volume of cerebrospinal fluid, possibly the result of spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak, spinal tap or spinal anesthesia)
6. Thunderclap headaches (a group of disorders that involves sudden, severe headaches with multiple causes).
Finding the cause
If you tend to have headaches that are frequent and severe, your doctor will examine you for any serious, life-threatening conditions (e.g., stroke, meningitis) and start emergency care if needed. As well, if you regularly have headaches and experience a change in the pattern of your usual headaches, you should see your doctor.
Typically, a thorough medical history and physical examination is enough for a good diagnosis. Since tension headaches are very common, your doctor will ask questions about your current stress level and other personal factors (e.g., work) that may be triggering your headaches. Depending on the location, duration, and any accompanying symptoms, the type of headache can be determined. In some cases, a brain scan called a CAT (computer assisted tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may be used to check for serious causes of headache.
Treatment and Prevention
Since tension headaches are caused by factors such as neck strain, stress, and anxiety, treatment involves eliminating the stressful situation, if possible. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever , and finding ways to relax, rest, correct poor posture, and exercise can all help to relieve and prevent headache pain..
Other types of headaches can be dealt with using over the counter medications, oxygen therapy, chiropractic manipulation. With other secondary headaches, your doctor will seek to find the underlying ailment, and appropriate treatment given. It is normal that as soon as the cause is removed, these headaches would cease.