Between 70 and 90 million Americans suffer from intermittent headaches. Headache pain may be generalized (all over) or localized (in one area) and may range from mild to severe. Some headaches have a known cause while others, like migraine headaches, do not.Migraine pain, which is usually more intense, may be throbbing, pounding or felt more on one side of your head. The usual symptoms of a migraine headache are intense pain on one side of the head, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Tension headaches caused by muscle contraction are the most common kind of headache, and cause the mildest pain. They're often described as a "tightening or constricting of the head." Causes may include stress/anxiety, poor posture, allergies, eye strain, low blood sugar, sleep loss, alcohol use, and clenching or grinding teeth. Since they usually respond to nonprescription pain relievers, they're also the simplest headaches to treat.
Vascular (blood vessel) headaches describe a category that includes both migraine and cluster headaches. Headaches of this type range from the simply annoying to those that make you unable to function.
Migraine headaches can be severely debilitating, or can involve only mild to moderate pain. Migraine headaches tend to be hereditary and affect 18% of women and 6% of men. An estimated 40 million Americans are migraine sufferers. Only a healthcare professional can determine if your headaches are in fact migraines, and then recommend an appropriate treatment program for you.
Cluster headaches are the rarest class of headache, affecting less than 1% of the population. Although relatively short in duration (15 minutes to 3 hours), they cause tremendous suffering for those afflicted. Attacks tend to occur in "clusters" several times a day or at the same time each day for several days.
Sinus headaches are often caused by Sinusitis - irritation of the sinuses. Sinus pain is the result of pressure behind the eyes, along the nose, and behind the cheeks. Sometimes the pressure can feel no more serious than a stuffy nose. In other cases the pain can be intense enough to keep you from daily routines.
What to do:
Don't let headache pain slow you down.
- Learn how to reduce the stress in your life.
- Regular exercise, deep breathing, and meditation, along with proper rest and diet, can help reduce the number and severity of headaches.
Non-prescription analgesics (pain relievers) provide temporary relief from the mild-to-moderate pain of most tension and cluster headaches. Migraine headaches tend to cause moderate-to-severe pain. If you suffer from migraine headaches, talk to your doctor about how best to treat them.
When to call the doctor:
Though it is uncommon that headaches are signs of serious medical conditions, call your doctor if:
- You have three or more headaches per week
- You have a stiff neck and/or fever
- You have shortness of breath
- You are dizzy, unsteady, or have slurred speech, weakness, or changes in sensation (numbness or tingling)
- Your headache is caused by a head injury
- Your headache is triggered by exertion, coughing, or bending
- You have persistent or severe vomiting