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Headache: Causes and Types

Published on Jan 03, 2018 and last reviewed on Nov 08, 2021   -  5 min read

Abstract

Headache is one of the commonest symptoms. In most cases, it is benign in nature. Occasionally, it may be the manifestation of serious illness. Here is a short article on the different causes of headaches.

Contents
Headache: Causes and Types

Introduction:

Headache is one of the most common complaints for which patients seek medical attention. The underlying cause could be neurological, ENT-related (ear, nose, and throat), systemic diseases, or idiopathic (cause not known). Everyone most commonly experiences headaches, but it may sometimes be manifested due to a serious illness such as brain tumors, intracranial hemorrhage, meningitis, and temporal arteritis.

What Is the Pathological Basis of Headache?

How Is Headache Classified?

The headache is classified as primary and secondary. Secondary headache has an underlying cause, and the clinical features vary according to the cause.

Primary Headache:

Secondary Headache:

Intracranial causes -

Extracranial causes -

Systemic causes-

How to Differentiate Primary and Secondary Headaches?

The first step is to differentiate between serious and benign headaches. Some of the symptoms that suggest a serious underlying disease are as follows:

Location of Pain - Sometimes, the site of the pain can give us a clue to the diagnosis, like temporal region in temporal arteritis, facial pain in sinusitis, etc.

Duration of Pain - The duration of the headache becomes important, like in instant onset (ruptured aneurysm), cluster headache (three to five-minute peak), and migraine (peak pain over minutes to hours).

How Is a Headache Diagnosed?

Complete neurological and ENT examinations help suspect some of the common causes of headaches. In the examination, if abnormal findings are encountered, then imaging investigations are undertaken (CT - computed tomography or MRI - magnetic resonance imaging). Lumbar puncture becomes important if meningitis or encephalitis is suspected. A psychological state assessment of the patient might be needed if there is a suspicion of depression.

What Are the Common Types of Headaches?

Migraine:

Migraine is a common cause of headaches, and it is more common in females. It is typically a one-sided headache, increased by movement, lasts for hours to days, is associated with nausea or vomiting, photophobia, and phonophobia, and is relieved by sleep. It is defined as episodes of unilateral throbbing headache, nausea, and vomiting, or symptoms of neurological dysfunctions. Family history is usually present. Following are different types of migraine:

a. Classical Migraine: Headache is characteristically associated with premonitory sensory, motor, or visual symptoms (aura).

b. Common Migraine: There is a headache without aura. It is the most frequent type of migraine.

c. Migraine Equivalent: Rarely can cause migraine present with focal neurological deficit without headache.

d. Complicated Migraine: Migraine with transient focal neurological features or that leaves a persistent neurological deficit is called complicated migraine.

The headache typically starts with nonspecific prodromal symptoms like malaise and irritation, followed by an aura of a focal neurological event. There is a severe throbbing hemicranial headache with nausea, vomiting, photophobia, and phonophobia. The patient prefers to be in a quiet and darkened room to go to sleep. The aggravating factors for the headache are:

It is important to identify these, as avoidance constitutes an important step in the management of migraines. The deactivators or relieving factors are sleep, pregnancy, and triptans.

The most common aura is visual, which is in the form of hallucinations and fortification spectra. The latter is pathognomonic for migraines and is characterized by silvery zig-zag lines marching across the visual fields for 20 to 25 minutes. When headaches occur more than three times per month, then preventive treatment should be followed. Sumatriptan is a commonly prescribed drug to control migraine headaches. Other medications used to treat or prevent cluster headaches or chronic migraines are:

Tension Headache:

This is a very common type of headache which is experienced by the majority of the population at some time.

Cluster Headache:

Attacks occur in clusters. It is unilateral and associated with pain behind the eyes, running nose, and watering from the eyes. It is a rare form of a headache, and recurrence is characteristic.

Frequently Asked Questions


1.

How Do You Relieve a Headache?

Take an ample amount of rest in a quiet, dark room, give cold or hot compresses to the head or neck, massage the head, add small amounts of caffeine, and take over-the-counter medications like Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, or Aspirin.

2.

What Gets Rid of a Headache Fast?

Headache can be relieved faster by giving a cold or hot compress, easing pressure on the scalp, hydrating yourself, avoiding excessive chewing, dimming the lights, getting some caffeine, and practicing relaxation techniques.

3.

Should I Worry if I Have a Headache?

There is nothing to worry about headache pain because headaches have many causes, and most of the headaches are not serious. Rarely, headache pain can be a symptom of a severe health condition or illness. When the headache pain is serious, get immediate medical attention.

4.

What Pressure Point Relieves a Headache?

The pressure point LI-4, which is also called Hegu, is located between the index finger and the base of the thumb. Applying pressure on this point helps relieve pain and headaches.

5.

Does Coffee Help with Headaches?

Coffee provides relief for headaches due to vasoconstrictive properties. It increases the pressure of the blood flow surrounding the nerves and will send pain messages to the brain, and brings down the headache.

6.

What Foods Are Good to Eat for a Headache?

Green leafy vegetables, nuts, fatty fish, whole grains, seeds, fruits, legumes, and hot peppers help to relieve headaches.

7.

What Does a Headache for Three Consecutive Days Mean?

Migraine headaches are identified by their pounding and throbbing pain, which lasts for 4 hours to 3 days, and this usually happens one to four times a month. People have other symptoms, along with the pain, such as, sensitivity to light, nausea or vomiting, upset stomach or belly pain, and loss of appetite.

8.

What Is a Pressure Headache?

Pressure headaches are described by the dull pain, tightness, or pressure on the back of the head and neck and around the forehead. They are also called stress headaches, and it is the most common type of headache for adults.

9.

What Does a TMJ Headache Mean?

TMJ or temporomandibular joint headache is defined as head pain resulting from tensing up of the jaw muscles, then spreading of the pain to the TMJ muscles along the side of the cheeks and reaching to the top of the head, causing a TMJ headache.

10.

What Does a Sharp Headache Mean?

Sharp, sudden headaches are often called thunderclap headaches. It is not always serious, but it can be a sign of a life-threatening condition. This headache indicates an aneurysm or bleeding in the brain with additional signs of blurred vision, seizures, loss of consciousness.

11.

What Is an Ophthalmoplegic Migraine?

Ophthalmoplegic migraine is characterized by pain around the eye, nausea, vomiting, and diplopia. Diplopia is due to transient external ophthalmoplegia mainly involving the third cranial nerve and rarely the sixth nerve.

12.

What Are the Trigger Factors for a Headache?

The trigger factors should be identified and best avoided. Alcohol, red wine, and chocolate should not be taken. Adequate sleep should be ensured. Meals should not be missed.

13.

What Is the Reason for Headaches Due to Raised Intracranial Pressure?

Headache due to raised intracranial pressure is worse in the morning upon waking and is associated with vomiting. Intracranial mass lesions and hydrocephalus are the main causes of raised intracranial pressure.

Last reviewed at:
08 Nov 2021  -  5 min read

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