Headaches are defined as a pain in the head or upper neck. The pain originates from the tissues and structures that surround the skull or the brain. The pain experienced may be a dull ache, sharp, throbbing, constant, intermittent, mild, or intense.
In most cases headaches are nothing serious and either clear-up on their own or can be treated with over the counter painkillers.
There are different types of headaches, with different symptoms and causes.
Tension headaches, also known as stress headaches are the most common types of headaches. These muscle contraction headaches cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over a prolonged period of time.
The exact cause of migraines is still a grey area. However, it is known that they are related to blood vessel constriction and dilatation as well as other chemical changes in the brain.
The least common, but the most severe. Cluster headache pain can be described as having a burning or piercing sensation that throbs or is constant. The pain is so severe that most sufferers cannot sit still and will often pace during the headache. The word cluster refers to the headache occurring in a group of attacks which can happen one to three times per day. The headaches may disappear completely for months or years, only to repeat.
They are associated with a deep and constant pain in the cheek bones, forehead or bridge of nose. The pain normally worsens with sudden head movement or straining. They usually occur with other sinus symptoms such as nasal discharge, feeling fullness in the ears, fever and facial swelling.
If you are suffering with a headache that over the counter medication cannot relieve, the first step is to go to your GP or Physiotherapist. They will perform a complete physical examination and a headache evaluation. During the headache evaluation, your headache history and description of the headaches will be evaluated. You will be asked to describe your headache symptoms and characteristics as completely as possible.
A headache evaluation may include a CT scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) if a structural disorder of the central nervous system is suspected. Both tests produce cross-sectional images of the brain that can reveal abnormal areas or problems. If your headache symptoms become worse or become more frequent despite treatment, ask your GP for a referral to a specialist.
Your GP may recommend different types of treatment for you to try, refer you for further testing, or to a headache specialist.
The correct treatment will depend on several factors, including the type and frequency of the headache and its cause. Not all headaches require medical attention. Treatment may include education, counselling, stress management and medication. The treatment recommended for you will be tailored to meet your specific needs.