Types of Headaches
According to the International Headache Society, there are more than 150 diagnostic headache categories. There are probably about as many words used to describe the pain that comes with headaches, from aching, throbbing and pounding, to dull, constant and constricting.
There are many causes of headaches. Potential triggers include lack of sleep, missed meals, dehydration, stress, using a computer or watching television for an extended period of time, very loud music, smoking, strong odors, too much caffeine, and certain foods. While headaches may vary in severity and frequency, symptoms normally can be treated and managed.
Tension-type headaches are the most common kind of headaches. These headaches cause pressure or tightness around both sides of the head or neck. Pain is usually mild to moderate and it does not worsen with activity. A tension headache may last from 30 minutes to an entire week. They can be treated with over-the-counter aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Migraine headaches can cause moderate to severe pain that is made worse by light, noise and motion. They may be preceded by an aura, such as blurred vision, seeing spots, or jagged lines. Migraines can last from a few hours to several days, and may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. These headaches tend to be hereditary and occur in women three times more often than in men. Treatment for migraines includes taking over-the-counter or prescription medications, resting in a dark, quiet room, using hot or cold compresses on the head or neck, having a massage, and eating or drinking small amounts of caffeine.
Cluster headaches are severe, intense headaches that tend to happen repeatedly for weeks or months at a time, disappear for months or years, and then recur. They begin quickly without any warning and peak in a few minutes. Cluster headaches may occur numerous times a day and last from 15 minutes to three hours. The pain is always on one side of the head and begins around the eye or temple area. Preventive medications are available to treat cluster headaches as well as injectable medications for rapid relief during an attack. Inhaling 100 percent oxygen through a mask and pacing or rocking also may help relieve pain.
Some headaches are due to other medical conditions. A sinus infection can cause a headache, as can changing hormone levels associated with menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. Post-trauma headaches are relatively common within one to two days after a head injury. A brain tumor also can cause a headache, but headaches are very common and tumors are rarely found in people who go to the doctor for a headache.
Headaches are usually nothing to worry about. However, you should seek emergency care if you have the sudden onset of a severe headache, a headache starts after a head injury, the headache worsens even with rest and pain medication, or if it is accompanied by a fever, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or problems talking.