FAQ’s on Headaches: Migraine, Tension and Cluster
While headaches are a rarely a direct symptom of a serious illness, they are sometimes the result of a serious condition and should be discussed with the patient’s physician.
There are three types of headaches namely: migraine, cluster and tension
A migraine is throbbing, painful headache that begins on one side of the head. It is always preceded by an aura (early symptoms before the headache). The headache may last for two days. It is estimated that 10% of the total population may suffer from migraines.
Cluster headaches are headaches that are sudden, very intense and there is a stabbing pain on one side of the head, around the eyes. They usually occur frequently during the night. Cluster headaches appear 1-3 hours after falling asleep during which there is rapid eye movement.
Tension headaches, also known as a stress headache, are the most common type of headache among adults. It was named so because it was believed to be caused by stretching and tensing of the neck and scalp muscles, although it has been established not to be true. Tension headaches may occur alongside migraines. These headaches are usually intermittent and may each episode may last for several hours.
What are the symptoms of these headaches?
Migraines are usually characterized by very severe and throbbing pain that starts at on one side of the head. Patients may experience nausea and may also vomit. Aura is also common. Patients may become sensitive to light.
Cluster headaches are characterized by a steady but intense pain around one eye that lasts for thirty minutes to two hours. Nasal blockage on the affected side is usually a common symptom. The eyes may become bloodshot and watery. The face becomes flushed and the cheeks swell.
Tension headaches are characterized by steady pressure or pain in the temples, back of the head, or the scalp. The pain is usually on both sides of the head. It does not cause nausea, vomiting or photophobia (sensitivity to light).
What are the causes of these headaches?
The cause of migraine is not precisely known although it believed to be caused by a shift in the brain’s electrical activity. Another possibility is an abnormal constriction and dilation of the arteries supplying blood to the scalp and brain. It is triggered by stress, menstrual periods, bright lights, caffeine withdrawal and overwork.
The cause of cluster headaches is not known but may be triggered by nicotine, nitroglycerin (used in treatment of angina), alcohol, stress, emotional unrest and foods containing tyramine.
The cause of tension headaches is not known but may be associated with lack of sleep, fatigue, depression, caffeine withdrawal, and eye strain.
Can headaches be prevented?
Migraines can be prevented by setting aside time for recreation and relaxation. Foods that trigger migraines should be avoided.
Cluster headaches can be prevented by avoiding substances that may trigger it. Excessive consumption of alcohol and cigarettes should also be avoided.
Tension headaches can be avoided by getting enough rest and reducing stress by setting aside time to relax and exercise.
Headaches are diagnosed by physical examination and looking at the patient history. In the case of tension headaches, sinus x-ray, or vision tests may be performed to rule out cerebral aneurysm, glaucoma, or sinusitis among other disorders.
How are headaches treated?
OTC (over-the-counter) analgesics may be used for mild headaches. Medications such as sumatriptan, dihydroergotamine and other related drugs may be used to prevent severe migraines if taken at the beginning of the headache. Propranolol, verapamil, divalproex and beta blockers may reduce the frequency of occurrence of headaches. Relaxation is advised if stress is the trigger.
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