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A headache is pain or discomfort in the head or face area. Headaches vary greatly in terms of pain location, pain intensity, and how frequently they occur. This results in several categories of headaches. While the actual brain tissue doesn’t have pain-sensitive nerve fibers and doesn’t feel pain, other parts of the head can be responsible for a headache including:
Different types of headaches include:
This type of headache is distinguished by the fact that symptoms other than pain occur as part of the headache. Nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, sensitivity to light (photophobia), and other visual symptoms typically occur with migraine. Migraines are also unique in that they have distinct phases. Not all people have each phase, however. The phases of a migraine headache may include:
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Stress and muscle tension are often factors in tension-type headaches. While symptoms may differ, the following are common symptoms of a tension-type headache:
Cluster headaches usually occur in a series that may last weeks or months, and the headache series may return every year or two.
While people often experience symptoms differently, the following are the most common symptoms of a cluster headache:
Headaches are classified as primary or secondary.
Headache symptoms depend on the type of headache. The frequency of headaches and the intensity of the symptoms may vary as well. Typical headache symptoms include:
Tension type headaches typically do not cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light (photophobia).
The symptoms of a headache may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
The full extent of the problem may not be understood immediately, but may be revealed with a comprehensive medical evaluation and diagnostic testing. The diagnosis of a headache is made with a careful history, physical examination and diagnostic tests.
Questions commonly asked during the exam may include, but are not limited to, the following:
If the history is consistent with migraine or tension-type headaches and the neurological exam is normal, no further diagnostic testing may be necessary. However, if it is not a primary type headache, then other tests may be needed to determine the cause.
Tests used to determine the cause of a headache may include:
Specific treatment for headaches will be determined by your health care provider based on:
The ultimate goal of treatment is to stop headaches from occurring. Adequate headache management depends on the accurate identification of the type of headache and may include:
Migraine headaches may require specific medication management including:
Some headaches may require immediate medical attention including hospitalization for observation, diagnostic testing, or even surgery. Treatment is individualized depending on the underlying condition causing the headache. Full recovery depends on the type of headache and other medical problems that may be present.
When headache triggers are known, avoiding the triggers can prevent a headache. Reducing stress can minimize or prevent headaches caused by stress. Migraine headaches may be prevented by taking a daily preventive medication.
Most headaches can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, you should call your health care provider right away if a severe headache is accompanied by:
Symptoms that may suggest a more serious headache include any of the following:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.