Headaches 101

Headaches are super common, but did you know that there are several kinds of headaches, all of which cause pain in different areas? Let’s look at the types of headaches people may experience and how to treat them.

What Is a Headache?

A headache is head or face pain often described as pressure that throbs and is constant, sharp, or dull. According to the Cleveland Clinic, headaches are so common that they’re considered the most common form of pain and are a major reason cited for missing work and school.

Why Do Headaches Hurt?

If you’re like us, you’re never quite able to put your finger on why a headache is so miserable. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “The trigeminal nerve has three branches that conduct sensations from the scalp, the blood vessels inside and outside of the skull, the lining around the brain (the meninges), and the face, mouth, neck, ears, eyes, and throat.” Because brain tissue lacks pain-sensitive nerves, it doesn’t feel pain. Headaches occur when pain-sensitive nerve endings react to headache triggers and then send a message to our brain that we should feel pain from all over our body. While it’s cool that our body can do this, the outcome (a headache) isn’t very cool.

What Are the Different Kinds of Headaches?

There are over 150 kinds of headaches, but to narrow it down, they fall into one of two categories: primary or secondary.

Primary headaches occur when people have genes that cause a lot of headaches. These headaches aren’t symptoms or underlying issues of any other medical diagnosis. Types of primary headaches include tension headaches, migraines, cluster headaches, or new daily persistent headaches (NDPH). Other factors that can contribute to primary headaches include alcohol, certain foods, nicotine, changes in sleep, poor posture, skipping meals, coughing, sneezing, nose blowing, straining, and laughing or crying vigorously.

Secondary headaches occur when there is an underlying medical condition. For example, dehydration, sinuses, and medication overuse are often the culprits of these headaches.

Treating Your Headaches

How you treat a headache depends on what type you find yourself experiencing. If you get headaches often, start a headache log, jotting down when your headache occurs, what you ate and drank beforehand, where your headache is located, etc. From here, your doctor can come up with a treatment plan.

If you experience mild headaches, you can treat them at home with over-the-counter pain relief, applying heat or cold packs, stretching, massaging your neck and back, resting in a quiet, dark room, taking a walk to get some fresh air, and/or taking some big, deep breaths. All headaches are not created equal, so you can’t rule out stress management, tension control, or treating the underlying medical condition that is the cause of your headaches.

When to Seek Immediate Care

If you experience neurological symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance, numbness or tingling, paralysis, speech difficulties, confusion, seizures, personality changes, or blurred vision, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

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