What are headaches?

Headache is one of the most common reasons patients seek help from their physicians. However, most headaches are not serious and can be safely treated at home.


What can cause a headache?

Some common causes include eyestrain, infections, allergy, head and neck injury, hormonal changes, and high blood pressure.


When should I seek immediate medical attention for a headache?

You should seek medical attentions for a headache if you experience a very sudden pain that you might describe as "the worst headache of your life". You should also seek medical attention if your headache occurs with a fever, confusion, and stiff neck, if you experience weakness, paralysis, slurred speech, seizures, or confusion, if you have had recent trauma to the head, such as a fall, if it occurs during physical exertion, such as exercise or sexual activity, if a severe headache that does not respond to home therapy, or if it awakens you from a sound sleep. There are 2 common classifications of headaches which are tension headaches and migraine headaches.


What are tension headaches?  

More than 90% of all headaches are tension headaches (also called stress headaches). Patients often describe them as a dull, constant ache on both sides of the head. Others also experience a squeezing sensation, as if the head were in a vice. Other symptoms may include tightness and pain in the neck and shoulders. The pain can range from mild to severe.


How can I treat a tension headache?

You can use a nonprescription pain reliever, such as TylenolŪ or AdvilŪ. However, to avoid "rebound headaches" (headaches that come back when the pain reliever wears off), do not use these medications too frequently.  You may lie down in a dark room with a cool cloth on your forehead and relax your head and neck muscles.  You could have someone lightly massage your neck muscles.


How can I prevent tension headaches?

You should limit your alcohol and caffeine intake. Cut down slowly to avoid increasing headache frequency. You should practice proper posture. Often, poor posture, or excessive bending or twisting of the neck to reach poorly placed items, contribute to tension headaches. You should try to reduce emotional stress. Relaxation techniques and exercise often help do this.


What are migraine headaches?

Migraine headaches are severe, often throbbing headaches that usually occur on one side of the head and can last anywhere from a few hours to days.


What are some common symptoms of a migraine headache?

Some common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to loud sounds and bright lights. Warning signs, called auras, may occur 15 to 30 minutes prior to the onset of head pain. Auras can include blurred vision with bright spots, numbness or tingling of the face or arms, weakness, or even strange smells. Although migraines can occur in men and women and at any age, they are more common in females between the ages of 15 and 40.


How are migraine headaches treated?

One way to treat a migraine is to rest in a dark, quiet place. Try to sleep, as this can sometimes resolve migraines. Sometimes you can use a nonprescription medication, such as TylenolŪ or AdvilŪ, or a medicine your physician has prescribed. Take the medication as soon as the pain starts or even before you experience pain if you have warning signs. You may also try applying a cool washcloth or cold pack to your forehead.


How can I prevent a migraine headache?

It is not known exactly what causes migraine headaches, but you should try to avoid possible triggers. Some common triggers include bright lights, loud noises, tiredness, hormonal changes (such as during menstruation), stress, and foods (such as chocolate, red wine, hard cheese, and caffeine).