Headaches come in many forms and each has its own symptoms and treatment. By understanding the distinctions, you and your doctor can find a treatment option tailored specifically to you.
A primary headache is caused by dysfunction or overactivity of pain-sensitive areas in your brain, such as nerves, blood vessels and head muscles. Some people are more prone to primary headaches than others; they can also be triggered by certain foods and drinks or changes in sleep habits (food-triggered headaches).
These are headaches that occur as a result of an underlying medical condition such as sinus infection, thyroid disease, high blood pressure or a head injury. Although not dangerous, these types of headaches can be painful and disrupt daily activities.
Migraines often present with nausea and light sensitivity; these symptoms can last for several hours each time. Some individuals may also experience a “premonition,” in which there is an abrupt change in mood or behavior coupled with other symptoms.
Cluster headaches are a chronic condition that often occur in clusters. They’re more frequent than migraines and may last up to three months. Cluster headaches may be triggered by changes in hormone levels during your menstrual cycle or pregnancy, making them difficult to treat and managing them an ongoing struggle.
When they first occur, you may experience a rush of blood to your scalp and an intense sense of pressure. You might also feel tingling or numbness throughout, particularly in your hands and feet. These sensations might worsen with movement or conversation as well as blurry vision.
Your doctor may order a blood test to rule out diabetes or another medical condition that could cause headaches. They may also inquire if you’re taking any medications, such as over-the-counter pain medicines.
They may ask you to keep a headache diary, recording what causes your headaches, how long they last and what helps them go away. You might want to include information about any family history of headaches as well.
Your doctor may suggest a combination of medications, dietary adjustments or other therapies to prevent or alleviate your headaches. They may also refer you to another specialist for further diagnosis or treatment.
If your headache persists despite taking medication or other treatments for several days, contact your doctor and explain the situation. They may prescribe a stronger drug or adjust the dosage of your current medicine accordingly.
It is essential to discuss your headaches with your doctor if they occur frequently or cause you to miss work, school or other activities. Furthermore, let them know if there is a history of medication overuse headaches; that is, taking an over-the-counter pain reliever more than two or three times per week or 10 times in one month.
Diagnosing the cause of your headaches and seeking medical advice about treatment options are essential for successful management. Your doctor should perform a physical exam and have an in-depth conversation about what’s causing the discomfort, how often they occur and what makes them better or worse. They may suggest keeping a headache diary or other tools that enable you to track both types of headaches as well as their triggers.