The Global Year Against Headache kicked off in October 2011 and continues until October 2012. Although we all know what it’s like to experience that throbbing or pulsating pain in our head, most of us don’t know that there are actually different types of headaches- from more common tension and migraine headaches to rare yet debilitating cluster headaches.
Headaches can be classified into primary, secondary or other headaches. This post will look specifically at primary headaches.
Primary headaches include tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches.
Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache and are named after their main symptom- feelings of tension, like someone is squeezing your head in a vice. Tension headaches can be due to factors such as hunger, stress, lack of sleep, tight muscles, caffeine withdrawal and eyestrain. Over the counter pain killers such as Tylenol and Advil are often effective in alleviating symptoms. Addressing the potential cause of the problem (e.g. getting more sleep, maintaining proper posture, taking a break from computer work) is effective in preventing tension headaches.
Migraine headaches tend to be more severe than tension headaches and are often accompanied by symptoms such as nausea and increased sensitivity to light and sound. The underlying cause of migraines is unknown. Migraine headaches can be prevented by avoiding your known migraine triggers (e.g. flickering flights, stress, certain foods, missed meals) and increasing physical activity. It is a good idea to keep a diary of what you do and eat the day you get a migraine to help determine what your triggers are. Migraine medications such as pain relievers and (e.g. Excedrin Migraine) or triptans (e.g. Sumatriptan, Zomig) can be used to both prevent and treat migraines, although with varying effectiveness. Surgery is also an option for migraine management.
Cluster headaches are associated with immense pain (reportedly even more severe than childbirth) that comes and goes periodically. Cluster headaches tend to cause pain in the eye-area. They affect approximately 0.1% of the population and appear to be genetic in nature. Over-the-counter drugs are insufficient in treating cluster headaches. One available treatment involves the inhalation of 100% oxygen which can alleviate symptoms at the onset of an attack, but does little at the peak of an attack. Further research is urgently required to uncover the cause of the condition and treatment options.
Facts about headaches:
- It’s hard to say exactly what causes headaches, because it depends. It is worth noting, however, that the brain actually doesn’t have pain receptors, so the pain we are experiencing usually comes from pain receptors in our head and neck.
- Useful non-drug treatments for the management of mild to moderate headaches include massage, chiropractic, acupuncture and other stress-relieving therapies.
- Sinus irritation or infection can cause sinus headaches
- Except for cluster headaches, women are more likely to suffer from headaches than men. This may be related to estrogen levels since boys and girls who have not yet gone through puberty (and therefore have not experienced hormonal changes) do not differ in terms of frequency of headaches.
- Almost all sufferers of cluster headaches report them to be the worst pain they have ever experienced, and likely will ever experience.