Types of Headaches and Treatment Options

Headaches and Their Impact

Headaches are very common condition, with about 50% of adults experiencing at least one headache a year. They usually pass on their own, but can hinder one’s quality of life when they are chronic or of a high intensity. If left untreated, headaches can continue to worsen and may even contribute to serious conditions such as depression and strokes. For these reasons, it is important to be aware of factors that can contribute to headaches and of potential treatments.

“Migraines Through History“ Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, Flickr (CC license)

Headaches can manifest in a variety of ways. The pain associated with a headache may be mild or intense, chronic or acute. They may occur as infrequently as once per year or as frequently as multiple times a day. Headaches may be accompanied by symptoms other than pain, such as nausea and dizziness. Generally speaking, headaches are either primary or secondary conditions, occurring on their own or as a symptom of an underlying condition. Below are some of the more common types of headaches.

Headaches can greatly impact quality of life.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches can feel like dull, aching pain in the head accompanied by a sensation of tightness or pressure across the forehead or back of the head. Those who suffer from tension headaches may also feel tenderness on the scalp, neck, and shoulders. Tension headaches can either be episodic, where they occur during less than 15 days out of a month, or chronic, in which case they occur more frequently and for a longer duration.

Migraines

Migraines are very severe headaches that tend to occur on one side of the head and are often accompanied by symptoms like nausea and extreme sensitivity to light or sound. They may also occur along with what is called an “aura,” which may be experienced as tunnel vision or blurry “spots” in one’s field of vision. Although the precise cause of migraines is not known, studies have found people with a family history of migraines are more likely to experience migraines themselves. They can also be triggered by factors like alcohol, stress, or hormonal fluctuations. About 15% of the adult population experiences migraines, with women statistically more likely to do so. Migraines can last anywhere between 2 and 72 hours. If left untreated, migraines may worsen or result in serious conditions such as strokes. For this reason, it is important to see a neurologist or pain specialist if you believe you are experiencing migraines.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches tend to be very severe and occur in groups or “clusters” over a period of days, weeks, or even months, separated by pauses when no headaches occur. Some people who have cluster headaches experience them around the same time each day during an “outbreak” or flare-up. The cause of cluster headaches hasn’t been identified, but some researchers believe they may be related to hormonal fluctuations or the body’s internal “clock” that is controlled by the hypothalamus gland.

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches occur as a result of another underlying medical condition. Such conditions include head and neck trauma, brain tumors, cardiovascular issues, and the side effects or withdrawal symptoms associated with certain medications.

Causes of Headaches and Lifestyle Changes

Headaches are a complex condition that continues to be studied by medical researchers. Their origins may lie in a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and some underlying medical conditions. A number of factors may trigger or worsen headaches including stress, sleep deprivation, fatigue, dehydration, loud noises or bright lights, and certain decongestants. It is important to maintain proper hydration and a well-balanced diet and exercise regime, controlling one’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Getting enough sleep and avoiding triggers in intense environments may also help reduce the frequency and severity of headaches. However, lifestyle changes may not be enough to control headache symptoms, and in that case it is prudent to seek treatment from a trained specialist.

Diagnosis

An accurate diagnosis for headaches is essential for ensuring that the most appropriate care is provided in order to achieve relief of pain and related symptoms. Diagnosis begins with a detailed patient medical history and a review of the symptoms to help differentiate among different types of headaches. A physical exam may be performed, and some patients may be asked to keep a diary or log of their symptoms. Diagnostic tests such as blood tests, CT scans, X-rays, and MRIs may be ordered to rule out other conditions and to aid in diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment Options

In treating headaches and migraines, a neurologist or pain management specialist may prescribe an oral medication to help alleviate the symptoms of headaches or to treat an underlying condition. These may include painkillers, steroids, and specialized migraine medications. However, oral medication may not be advised in some patients and may not be sufficient to treat the problem. Other options exist, including a number of minimally invasive injection procedures.

These injections may include medications such as anaesthetics, steroids, and Neurotoxin. Neurotoxin injections, in particular, show great potential for treating migraines and other headaches. Once known primarily for cosmetic purposes, Neurotoxin has been studied to reveal a number of useful medical properties. Neurotoxin may help to prevent and treat migraines by inhibiting the overaction of chemicals in the body that help to transmit pain signals to the brain. Neurotoxin injections for migraine treatment have become increasingly routine, and may be a preferred treatment route for patients suffering from chronic and acute headaches.


If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing headaches or migraines, schedule a consultation today. The physicians at Cayman Neurology and Pain Management are leading specialists in headaches and migraine treatment. Call (345) 943-6800 or click the link below to request an appointment.

AUTHOR


Cayman Neurologists