Headaches Types, Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Although there are over 150 headache types, they fall in to one of two classifications: primary and secondary headaches.

Primary Headaches

Headaches that are not due to another medical issue, primary headaches include:
* Cluster headaches
* Migraines
* New daily persistent headaches
* Tension headache

Secondary Headaches

Those that are caused by another medical condition, secondary headaches include:
* Neurological vascular disease
* Head trauma
* Hypertension
* Infection
* Overuse of medication
* Sinus congestion
* Tumor/cancer

What Causes Headaches?

Headaches, particularly migraines, tend to be genetic. Typically, children who suffer from migraines have one or more parent that also gets them. Data shows that children whose parents have migraines have up to four times the risk of developing them as well.

The interaction of signals among the brain, surrounding nerves, and blood vessels causes headache pain. When a headache occurs, specific nerves that affect blood vessels and muscles are activated via an unknown mechanism. These nerves transmit pain signals to the brain.

Although not fully understood, researchers believe migraines are caused by unstable nerve cells overreacting to certain stimuli (triggers). These nerve cells transmit impulses to the blood vessels and create chemical changes in the brain that can be painful and disabling.

Some of the common triggers that contribute to tension headaches and migraines are:
* Alcohol consumption
* Changes in sleeping or eating habits
* Depression
* Stress due to personal or professional issues
* Overuse of medication
* Exposure to allergens
* Secondhand smoke
* Lighting
* Noise
* Weather changes

Headache Symptoms

Symptoms will vary based upon the type of headache.

Tension Headaches

These are the most frequent headache type and are characterized by pain that is generally:
* Consistent but not throbbing
* Mild to moderate
* Occurs bilaterally (both sides of head)
* Responds to over-the-counter medicine
* Worsens with activity/physical exertion


The second most frequent headache, migraine symptoms include:
* Pain that is moderate to severe
* Nausea
* Vomiting
* Abdominal pain
* Throbbing or pounding pain
* Pain lasting for hours to a few days
* Sensitivity to noise, light, or odors

Cluster Headaches

The most severe form of primary headache, cluster headaches occur in groups or clusters, often in the fall or spring. They happen 1-8 times daily during a period that could last weeks to a few months. In some cases, the headaches may go disappear for prolonged periods only to later return. Cluster headache pain is:
* Intense with a stabbing or burning sensation
* Located behind the eyes
* Constant or throbbing

Headache Treatment

Perhaps the biggest factor people need to combat headaches it to determine their triggers. By figuring the triggers out, often by keeping a headache diary, patients can help reduce the occurrence of headaches.

Once the underlying trigger or cause of headaches are identified, treatment options may include:

Stress management: Practices or techniques to help manage stressful situations. Includes muscle relaxation, deep breathing, music, and mental images to ease tension.

Medication: The occasional tension headache will typically respond to over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin. For more severe headaches, prescription medication may be needed.

Biofeedback: The practice of learning to recognize when tension builds in the body and how to respond without becoming agitated. Sensors are placed on the body that monitor physical responses during headaches.

Relieving a Headache