Migraines and Headaches by Jessica Sticht
What causes headaches? Headache pain results from signals interacting between the brain, blood vessels and surrounding nerves. During a headache, specific nerves of the blood vessels and head muscles are activated and send pain signals to the brain.
Headaches can occur suddenly due to an illness, infection, cold, or fever. Other conditions that can cause an acute headache include sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), pharyngitis (sore throat), or otitis (ear infection or inflammation)
Sometimes, a headache can be the result of a blow to the head (trauma) which can be a sign of a more serious medical condition.
They can also be triggered by specific environmental factors in a family’s household, such as secondhand tobacco smoke, strong odors, chemicals, perfumes, eating certain foods, or exposure to certain allergens. Stress, pollution, noise, lighting and weather changes are other environmental factors that can trigger headaches for some people too.
Different Types of Headaches
- Tension headaches: These are the most common headache. Also known as chronic daily headaches or chronic non-progressive headaches. They consist of muscle contraction that cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over a prolonged period of time.
- Migraines: The exact cause of migraines is unknown. A popular theory is that various triggers cause abnormal brain activity, which in turn causes changes in the blood vessels in the brain. Genetics can play a role as well. Migraine pain is moderate to severe and often is described as pounding, throbbing pain. They can last from hours to days and can occur one to four times a month. Migraines are also associated with symptoms such as sensitivity to light, noise, or odors, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, and stomach upset or abdominal pain.
- Cluster headaches: These are the least common headaches. Although they are the most severe type of primary headache. It is described as pain with a burning or piercing quality that is throbbing or constant. The pain is so severe that most cluster headache sufferers cannot sit still and will often pace during an attack. The pain is usually located behind one eye or in the eye region. The term “cluster” refers to the amount of times per day the headache occurs. It usually happens one to three times per day during a cluster period which may last two weeks to a few months. Then they go into remission for months or years only to recur.
- Sinus headaches: Sinus headaches usually happen in the cheekbones, forehead, or bridge of the nose. The pain usually is intensified with sudden head movement or straining and usually occurs with other sinus symptoms, such as nasal discharge, feeling fullness in the ears, fever and facial swelling.
- Hormone headaches: Headaches in women are often associated with changing hormone levels that occur during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. Birth control pills can also trigger headaches in some women.
Evaluating and Treating Headaches
If you are having headache symptoms, the first step is to go see your doctor. He or she will perform a complete physical exam and a headache evaluation. During a headache evaluation, your headache history and description of the headaches will be evaluated. It is a good idea to keep a list of things that cause the headache and what aggravates the headache for the physician. You should also tell him or her what treatments you have tried to alleviate your headache and what has worked and not worked for you. Keeping a headache diary can help your doctor diagnose your headache type. Sometimes a headache evaluation may include a CT scan or MRI. Fortunately, for most headache sufferers, special diagnostic tests are not necessary.