Steve Macko

Steve Macko

Headaches are common to many people on an occasional basis and they are often a topic of discussion with our patients. In today’s Healthy Maricopa we’ll discuss various types of headaches many of us endure.

These unpleasant pains in our heads can cause pressure and aching. The pain can range from mild to severe and last anywhere from 30 minutes to a week. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common headache type is a tension headache triggered by stress, muscle strain, and anxiety. There are other headache types such as cluster headaches, sinus headaches, and thunderclap headaches. One of the most intense headaches, the migraine headache, has additional unpleasant symptoms besides head pain.

Tension headaches are characterized by a sense of aching or pressure and generally mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head and may include the back of the head and neck. The duration of the headache varies depending on the intensity and cause of the headache. In contrast, a migraine is a throbbing or pulsating pain that can last up to 72 hours. When compared with tension or other headache types, migraine headache pain can be moderate to severe.

A migraine headache is usually one-sided often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and/or sensitivity to light or noise. You may also experience pain behind one eye or ear. People of both genders and of all ages can have both migraines and headaches. Migraines are more common in adults; usually starting during puberty and sometimes sooner.

Migraines are typically classified in two categories: migraine with aura and migraine without aura. An “aura” refers to sensations a person experiences anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes before they get a migraine. These sensations can include seeing flashing lights or unusual lines, feeling tingling or numbness in the face or hands, or having an unusual sense of smell, taste, or touch.

Some migraine sufferers may experience symptoms a day or so before the actual migraine occurs. This is known as the “prodrome” phase with subtler signs including depression, irritability, neck stiffness, constipation, or frequent yawning.

Although migraines and headaches are not life threatening, they can be warning signs for a more serious condition. Concerning symptoms that should signal you to seek medical attention immediately include any new symptoms such as changes in vision or weakness, or sudden onset of the “worst headache of your life.”

Unfortunately, the exact causes of headaches and migraines are not completely understood. We do know there are common triggers for headaches, and most importantly migraines. These triggers include stress or sleep disturbance, certain odors or light sensitivities, diet, smoking or drinking alcohol, heat or dehydration, and hormonal or changes in weather.

One of the best treatments for headaches is a good over the counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Relaxation techniques will help to reduce stress that can lead to headaches including heat therapy, massage, meditation, and other stretching and relaxation exercises. Prevention is often recommended in the form of avoiding triggers and taking steps to reduce stress. If this does not help, seek medical attention as there are prescription medications to treat this common condition.

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