A headache is one of the most common medical ailments. Everyone suffers from headaches at some point in their lives, and it can be caused by too many different reasons that it is quite difficult to relate it to a condition on its own.
Sometimes, a headache can be much more complicated than we may think. Different types of headaches have different causes, with their own symptoms, and would need different treatments to stop them.
Some headaches (the most common), may be the consequence of actions or situations that affect us. Others could be a warning for a serious condition that we are suffering and that we must attend quickly. In this article, we will analyze different types of headaches, their causes, symptoms, and possible treatments to stop them.
Table of Contents
- 1 Types of headache
- 2 Headache causes
- 3 Most common types of headaches
- 4 Less common and rare types of headaches
- 5 Headache diagnosis and treatments
- 6 Daily life headache prevention
Types of headache
There are several ways to classify the types of headaches. According to the International Headache Society (IHS), headaches can be classified as primary and secondary.
- Primary: primary headaches are caused by an excess of chemical activity in the brain or a problem with the structure of it. The chemical, blood and nervous activity that surrounds and forms part of the structure of our brain, the muscles of the head or neck, can be the cause of primary pain. Certain individuals may also be prone to develop headaches due to genetics. Primary pain is not caused due to an external factor or because of an underlying disease.
- Secondary: A secondary headache occurs as a result of a disease or condition that activates the brain nerves of pain. The variation in the severity of these conditions can cause secondary headaches.
A headache is a set of signs and indicative of pain between the brain, nerves, and blood vessels. The nerves found in the blood vessels and muscles of the head activate and send pain signals to the brain.
The most common causes of headaches can be:
- Stress: emotional stress and conditions, such as depression, as well as tension and fatigue, are everyday causes of headaches, and are the most common. Lack of sleep, poor diet, abuse of alcohol intake, excessive intake of caffeine or theine, or taking too many medications, can also cause headaches. Poor posture can cause headaches also which are often accompanied by neck or back pain.
- Situational environment: the environment which surrounds us, can also cause headaches. Strong odors, such as tobacco smoke, the smell of hygiene or cleaning products, strong perfumes, certain allergens or even some foods. Headaches can also be increased by the noise, environmental pollution, lighting and climate changes.
- Illness: sometimes, headaches can be produced because of health problems. This refers to colds, fever and infections. Also, headaches are common with conditions such as sinusitis, or throat or ear infections. The blows to the head can result in headaches for a certain time. In rare cases, they can be a sign of a serious condition.
- Genetics: some types of headaches, especially migraines and chronic migraine, can occur due to family genetics. 90% of children and young people who suffer from migraine, have another family member with the same condition. When two adults have a frequent history of migraines, children can have more than a 70% chance of developing migraines. If only one parent has this condition, the chances are reduced by 25-50%. Although the cause of concurrent migraines is not exactly known, they can trigger changes in the blood vessels, generating unusual brain activity. Some kinds of migraines are linked to genetic problems in the brain. Excessive physical exercise with high intensity can cause migraine in adults.
Most common types of headaches
Many types of headaches, can occur due to several causes. Some of the most common or frequent headaches that we may suffer are the following.
Migraines can be described as a throbbing headache. It can last from a few hours or even up to a couple of days, and usually, occur at least 4 or 5 times a month.
In addition to suffering headaches, it is possible that the person suffering from migraine also experience nausea, upset stomach, sensitivity to light, noise or strong smells, loss of appetite, even vomiting. Children suffering from migraines may also suffer from these other conditions.
Headaches due to the tension are the most common primary type headaches and can occur frequently. These can start slowly and gradually increase in intensity as the day progresses.
Stress pain may feel like a feeling of pressure around the head, constant pain on both sides or a sensation of pain that can extend to the neck area.
Tension headache can occur in two ways: episodic or chronic. Episodic pain is an occasional pain that can last a few hours for a few days. Chronic tension headache usually occurs with duration lapses that exceed 2 weeks, and last a period of at least 3 months.
Headache due to exercise
When exercising, the muscles present in the head, the area of the neck and even the scalp, need greater blood flow. Due to this, the blood vessels present in said areas swell to supply this need.
In case of very high or intense physical activity, the pain can present as a throbbing pain on both sides of the head and can last between 5 minutes to 48 hours. It can occur during or after physical activity. It can also happen during sex.
Sinusitis headache is a pain that usually occurs when the cavities, called sinuses, become inflamed. This condition is also accompanied by constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead or bridge of the nose.
The sinusitis also presents nasal discharge, and may also present conditions such as fever, or a feeling of blocked ears. A sinus headache can mean a sinus infection if the nasal secretions appear greenish or bright yellow.
Hormonal headaches can be quite common, especially in women. These usually occur during hormonal changes, due to menstrual periods, pregnancy or menopause. The use of contraceptive pills or hormone replacement therapy can also cause headaches.
When the headaches begin up to 2 days before the period, or in the first 3 days within it, these pains are called menstrual migraines.
Rebound headaches are pains that appear because of the excessive use of medications to treat the symptoms of headaches. They are one of the most frequent causes of secondary headaches.
They usually start early in the day and persist for the rest of it. It is possible to improve the pain using analgesics, although when its effect dissipates, the pains can be even stronger.
Rebound headaches can also cause:
- A sensation of nasal congestion
- Pain in the neck
- Reduction of sleep quality
Rebound headaches can vary in symptoms and in the sensation of pain experienced.
Cluster headaches are called in this way because they usually occur in groups. They usually occur 1 to 3 times a day, during a period that can last from 2 weeks to even 3 or more months. Each pain attack can be very intense, and last between 15 minutes to 3 hours.
The pain appears in the form of burning, throbbing or constant pain in the area of the eyelid, behind or around the eyes. It usually occurs on one particular side. On that side, the eyelid falls and the eye becomes red, and the nasal pouch on the side of the eyelid is usually filled with mucus.
The pain can be so intense that many patients are not able to stay still or in a resting position, so they usually walk from one side to the other. In addition, this pain can occur suddenly at any time of the day, preventing a proper rest.
However, the pain may not be chronic or recurrent. The cluster headache may disappear for years and then return to the patient. Men are 4 times more likely to suffer from cluster headaches than women.
After an injury or blow to the head, we may have post-traumatic pain for a few days due to this cause.
Post-traumatic headaches may include the following symptoms:
- Vertigo and dizziness
- Dull pain that gets worse over time
- Memory problems
The symptoms can vary, and also their duration and intensity vary depending on the injury or trauma.
Less common and rare types of headaches
There are also some headaches that are not frequent, or that may be indicative of a major health problem.
Ice pick headaches
The Ice pick headache is a sharp pain, that present a throbbing sensation. They usually have a duration of just a few seconds, although they have a very high intensity of pain. They can happen a few times a day at most.
If you have Ice pick headaches, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible, as they may be a condition on their own or may be symptoms of a major condition.
Hemicrania Continua is a chronic headache condition. It usually affects the same side of the head and face. Also, you may have some of the following symptoms:
- Red or watery eyes
- Nasal congestion
- Pain with severity and variable intensity
- Contracted Iris
- Fallen eyelids
- Increased pain with alcohol intake
- Increased pain with physical activity
Some people also suffer typical symptoms of migraine, such as vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sounds, among others.
Hemicrania Continua can be presented in two ways:
- Chronic: Headaches and symptoms occur on a daily basis.
- Remitting: The headache and symptoms are suffered daily for a period of several months, which can last up to 6 months. Then, the pain and symptoms disappear for a few weeks or months, and over time they reappear.
In a lumbar puncture, the procedure involves piercing the membrane that surrounds the spinal cord. If the cerebrospinal fluid leaks through the puncture, it can cause a headache.
If you experience a headache after a lumbar puncture, a spinal block or an epidural procedure, then you should contact your doctor.
New persistent daily headaches (NDPH)
Some headaches classified as NDPH are pains that can start suddenly and can last for more than 3 months. The pains are usually moderate, although some people may suffer more severe pain.
The symptoms can be similar to those of tension headaches and even some classic symptoms of migraine headaches, such as nausea or sensitivity to light.
Although it is not known for sure why these pains begin to occur, many people estimate that they occur after an infection, a flu-like condition, after a surgery or after a situation with a high level of stress.
If the headache does not go away after using traditional pain management medications, or the pain is very severe, you should consult a medical professional for further examination.
This type of headache is sudden, and are often described as highly intense. They are of short duration, of approximately up to 5 minutes, although they usually reach the maximum intensity of pain before the first minute.
Occasionally, this pain appears because of serious to potentially life-threatening conditions, such as intracerebral hemorrhage, ruptured or unruptured aneurysms, reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (SVR), cerebral venous thrombosis, meningitis, or pituitary apoplexy.
People who suffer or suffer from thunder headaches or similar should immediately consult a medical professional.
Headache diagnosis and treatments
If you suffer from a headache, it is necessary to consult a medical professional as soon as possible to make a diagnosis and then provide medical treatment, in order to end the condition or possible major cause of it.
If you suffer from headaches, it is advisable to contact a doctor or medical professional as soon as possible. At the consultation, you may be asked questions to describe the symptoms you have, as well as the intensity and frequency of them. It is important to try to describe the headache as accurately as possible, as well as provide information about what causes headaches and what helps to calm it down. You are also likely to have a physical exam.
Most patients do not require advanced study or special diagnoses about their symptoms. It is also likely that a doctor advises you to perform studies that can help you better find the cause of the problem, such as a CT scan, or an MRI, looking for internal problems in the brain that may be causing the headaches.
In the vast majority of cases, it will not be necessary to perform an X-ray examination on the skull, unless the patient has suffered a blow or trauma. It is also possible that an electroencephalogram (EEG) is performed, especially if the patient suffered a faint when he had a headache.
If the doctor prescribes treatment for your pain but it does not improve, then you should ask to have it transferred to a headache specialist. The sooner you have been given adequate treatment for your condition, the sooner you can stop suffering it.
After the diagnosis is made, the doctor can recommend a treatment to follow. You can also refer us to a headache specialist, depending on the severity of the condition, or depending on the clinical diagnostic results. The types and methods of the treatment will depend on the cause of our condition, as well as the intensity, frequency, among other aspects.
Some people do not need medical help to control their condition or recover from it. Other patients must follow medical treatment with regulated medication, medical advice, stress management and biofeedback treatments, or with electronic medical devices, among others. The medical specialist will recommend the best treatment for your specific condition.
After starting the treatment, it is a good practice to keep track of its operation. It must always be borne in mind that it is possible that the treatment must be adjusted later depending on its operation or the response of the same in the patient. It is always important to inform the doctor of any change in the condition of the patient, in order to adjust the treatment as many times as necessary depending on what is working or not.
Despite receiving treatment, it is important to avoid the things that can cause headaches. Avoid noisy environments or with high pollution in the environment, as well as situations of high stress that can worsen the condition. Avoid loud sounds and smells. It is also essential to maintain a good diet and a good rest. Also, if it is possible, physical exercise will help us to keep active and healthy.
Alternative headache treatments
There are several alternative treatments to treat headaches. In any case, it is recommended first to consult a doctor or specialist before initiating any possible alternative treatment as a solution to the ailments.
Some alternative treatments are performed in sessions every certain time. Others need to put them into practice as part of everyday life and perform them assiduously to improve the quality of life.
Occasionally, headaches may be caused due to the lack of certain vitamins or nutrients, such as magnesium or certain types of vitamin B. The lack of nutrients may be due to both a poor diet, as well as a possible medical condition.
Some alternative treatments can be the following:
- Cognitive behaviour therapy
- Herbal and nutritional products
- Massage therapy and relaxation methods
There are a variety of alternative treatments for headaches. However, it is not proven by scientific evidence that these methods work. Always consult a medical professional before starting any of these treatments.
Daily life headache prevention
As we mentioned in the article, headaches can be caused by many reasons. To prevent suffering from headaches in our daily life, we should follow these suggestions:
- Avoid excessive consumption of drugs: excessive consumption of medicines for headaches on a regular basis can create a dependence on their use, generating even greater pain and intensity if at any time its use is stopped. We should always consult with a medical professional about the intake of medications on a regular basis and establish a health plan.
- Reduce caffeine consumption: caffeine is a substance that is included in many of the over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen. They contain caffeine since it can be beneficial in short term headache reduction. However, as with the excessive consumption of coffee or tea, caffeine can generate a slight addiction if its consumption is high and on a regular basis, which can lead to headaches.
- Do not skip meals: maintain a habit of regular consumption of meals, since every meal of the day is important. Trying to maintain healthy eating habits and increase fruit consumption between meals, as well as drinking lots of water, can help us to reduce headaches, and also keep us healthy.
- Exercise regularly: physical activity is very beneficial when it comes to keeping them healthy in every way, not only physically, but also mentally. In addition, exercise plays a very important role in reducing daily stress, one of the main causes of everyday headaches.
- Sleep well: sleep is one of the most important things in our daily life. A good rest, renews us both physically and mentally, as well as giving our system the opportunity to carry out the internal processes of the body in a better way. A good rest in an average adult should involve at least 7 to 8 hours a day.
- Reduce stress: stress is one of the main causes of everyday headaches. Carry out activities to reduce stress, in addition to planning in advance your daily activities, it is important to improve our physical and mental health. Try relaxing activities, such as yoga or meditation. Physical exercise is also important. If you are a very busy person, try to organize your head with the help of an agenda to plan your activities on a day-to-day basis. Surely these little actions will help you a lot.
We must remember that it is important to always consult a medical professional in case the pain is very high or does not stop after changing the daily habits for a considerable period of time.