A headache is pain in any region of the head and neck, including the scalp. Headaches can occur on any or both sides of the head, and they can also be localized to a specific part, e.g., just the front of the head or radiating across the head from one point to the other. The pain of headaches can be sharp, throbbing, or dull. Sometimes headaches may appear gradually or suddenly and last for less than an hour or even several days.
Headaches are one of the most-common symptoms of illness people experience all over the world. Needless to say, it is also one of the most-common causes (and results!) of self-medication, drug misuse and abuse. Today, Face2Face Africa will shed some light on common causes of headaches, what to do when you get one, and when to run to your doctor.
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Headaches can be classified into primary and secondary headaches.
- Primary headaches: These headaches are caused by problems with pain-sensitive structures in your head and neck. A primary headache is not a symptom of an underlying disease; it usually results from chemical activity in your brain, the nerves, or blood vessels of your head outside your skull and/or muscles of your head and neck. Some people may carry genes that make them more likely to develop such headaches, while sometimes, lifestyle habits predispose people to this type of headache.
- Secondary headaches: These headaches are symptoms of diseases that can activate the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. A varying number of conditions can cause secondary headaches, such as very high blood pressure, brain infections, brain tumors, and problems with the blood vessels in the head.
Common types of headaches include:
- Tension headaches that are the most-common headache. They tend to be on both sides of the head and often start at the back of the head and spread forward. Tension headaches are usually related to stress, depression, anxiety, a head injury, or even sleeping with your head and neck in an abnormal position.
- Migraine headaches, which are severe headaches that usually occur with other symptoms, such as changes in your vision or nausea. The pain is usually located on one side of your head and can be throbbing, pounding, or pulsating. With migraines, you may have warning symptoms that start before the headache known as “auras.” Another classical indicator of migraines is that the pain usually gets worse as you try to move around.Migraines may be triggered by foods, such as chocolate and certain cheeses. Caffeine withdrawal, lack of sleep, and alcohol can also trigger them. Some women also experience migraines as part of their pre-menstrual symptoms.
- Cluster headaches that are sharp, extremely painful headaches that tend to occur several times a day for months — then go away for a similar period of time (in a cyclical/cluster pattern, hence the name). Cluster headaches typically awaken you in the middle of the night with intense pain in or around one eye on one side of your head. Fortunately, cluster headaches are rare, not life-threatening, and can be managed effectively.
- Sinus headaches, which cause pain in the front of your head and face due to swelling in the sinus passages behind the cheeks, nose, and eyes. The pain is usually worse when you bend forward and first thing in the morning.
Other types of headaches include:
- External compression headaches that occur as a result of pressure-causing headgear like tight helmets and even scarves.
- Ice cream headaches, which are very brief stabbing headaches that occur when you eat or drink something really cold. They are what we commonly call “brain freezes.”
- Rebound headaches that are headaches that keep coming back. They commonly occur as a result of overuse of painkillers, e.g., people who take pain medication on more than 3 days a week.
What to Do When You Get a Headache
There are simple things you can do at home to help relieve the pain from headaches when you get them.
- Drink water, because you just might be dehydrated and that’s why you have a headache. it’s advisable to drink water to avoid getting dehydrated, especially if you have vomited.
- Rest in a quiet, dark room (shut your blinds) and possibly sleep if you can.
- Place a cool cloth on your head.
- Try any relaxation techniques you know.If the above doesn’t work, try acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Do not take aspirin or ibuprofen if there’s the likelihood you suffer from bleeding disorders.
When to See Your Doctor for a Headache
Some headaches can be symptoms of an underlying serious condition, such as a stroke or meningitis. Go to a hospital emergency room or call your local emergency number if you have the worst headache of your life or a sudden, severe headache.
Go see your doctor if you experience headaches that:
- Occur more frequently than usual
- Are more severe than usual
- Worsen or do not improve with correct use of over-the-counter pain relievers
- Prevent you from working, sleeping or participating in normal activities
- Are accompanied by persistent nausea or vomiting, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, fainting, high fever, neck stiffness, trouble with your vision
- Are persistent and cause you distress, and you would like to find treatment options that enable you to control them better
Serious causes of headaches are very rare and most people with headaches can feel much better by making simple lifestyle changes, learning ways to relax, and sometimes taking over-the-counter pain relief medications. Still, it is important to have proper knowledge and know what to do “just in case.”
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