Headache or head pain is one of the most common painful conditions. It is estimated that 7 of 10 people will experience a headache at least once a year.

The pain may be isolated to a certain location, occur on one or both sides of the head, radiate across the head from one point, or may be generalized involving the whole head. The headaches can be manifested as sharp or dull pain, or throbbing sensation. Most often they arise spontaneously, but sometimes can be triggered by physical or mental activity, and can last from less than an hour to several days or weeks.

Sometimes the headaches can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, especially in migraine headaches.

What Causes My Headaches?

Headaches can be triggered by many different factors. Depending of the reason that causes them, they are categorized in two groups.

Primary headaches

Primary headaches are stand-alone conditions, which are not related to separate illnesses but are result of underlying process in the brain. Examples of primary headaches are tension, cluster and migraine headaches.

Causes for these headaches include mental stress, anxiety, fatigue, eye strain, working on a computer for a long period of time, noise, eating and sleeping patterns, some medications, physical activity, posture, hormones, etc.

Secondary headaches 

Secondary headaches are symptoms to conditions or diseases which stimulate the pain sensitive nerves in the head.

Secondary headaches can be caused by alcohol-induced hangover, brain tumors, blood clots or bleeding in or around brai, stroke, concussion, dehydration, ice-scream-headaches, panic attacks, influenza, glaucoma, etc.

What Type of Headache Do I Have?

There are different types of headaches, one of the most common are:

Tension headaches

This is the most common form of headache, and most frequently occur in women over age 20. The pain is described as tight band around the head, and usually aren’t associated with other symptoms. Tension headaches usually are mild and last for several minutes to few hours. 

Migraine headaches

Migraine headaches are severe headaches, characterized with throbbing, pounding pain, localized on one side of the head. These headaches are associated with nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, photophobia (sensitivity to light), sensitivity to noise and dizziness. They can last from few hours to few days, and may happen one to four times a month.

People with migraine usually experience something called an aura, which is a feeling that migraine attack will occur. This symptom is hard to explain, but usually consists of nausea and visual disturbances.

Cluster headaches

These headaches are most severe. The pain is localized around or behind one of the eyes. It is described as burning or piercing sensation. They cause the eye to tear up, and nasal congestion is also present.

They are called cluster, because they usually appear in groups of one to three a day, during a cluster period which may last few weeks to several months. Each attack last 15 minutes to 3 hours, and are more common in men.

Sinus headaches

A sinus headache occurs when sinuses (air-filled spaces in the bones of the skull) became inflamed. 

When Should I See A Doctor?

You should immediately seek medical care if you are experiencing a headache that:

  • Gets worse over days or weeks
  • Is accompanied by constant nausea or vomiting
  • Is accompanied by seizures
  • Is accompanied by loss of consciousness
  • Wakes you up from sleep
  • Is accompanied by impaired neurological function or double vision

Diagnosis of Headaches

Diagnosis of headache is usually based on describing the pain, where is it localized, how often it appears and if it is associated with other symptoms. 

Sometimes the doctor may order imagining tests like x-Ray, MRI or CT, to exclude some causes of the headache.

Headache Treatments

Treatment options depend on the causes of the symptoms.

Usually treatment options include taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen, vitamins, rest in bed, sleeping, rest in quiet and darkened room, posture improvement and corrective exercises. Severe headaches therapy includes combination of OTC, antidepressants, antiepileptic drugs and beta-blockers.

Cluster headaches don’t really respond to the pain medications, in their treatment oxygen therapy is prescribed.

Sinus headaches require therapy with antibiotics or antivirals, depending on the infection.

Alternative Treatments

Several alternative treatments can also help coping with the head pain. These include:

To find out if you are a candidate for headache treatment at our San Francisco clinic in the Telegraph Hill – North Beach Area, please call at 415–421–1115 or book an appointment online.

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