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Headaches

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By Isatou Nyang,
5th year medical student

UTG Medical Students’ Association

“Uhhh” “Ouch” “shuu” are sounds made by people we know either on a weekly or daily basis as a way of expressing their pain particularly headaches. This is a condition that most people would experience many times during their lives and it has certainly become a normal occurrence to some people. A week or month would not passby without them having mild or severe headaches.

The main symptom of headache is pain in your head or face. There are several types of headaches, while most are not dangerous but certain types are due to underlying health conditions. Take a glass of water as we delve into the different types of headaches.

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What is a headache?

A headache is a pain in your head or face that’s often described as a pressure that’s throbbing, constant, sharp or dull.

Headaches can differ greatly in regard to pain type, severity, location and frequency.

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They are the most common form of pain and are a major reason cited for days missed at work or school, as well as visits to healthcare providers.

Frequent or severe headaches can affect a person’s quality of life. Knowing how to recognise the type of headache and its cause can help a person take appropriate action.

Factors that lead to headaches may be: emotional, such as stress, depression, or anxiety medical, such as migraine or high blood pressure physical, such as an injury environmental, such as the weather

What are the types of headaches?

Primary headaches

Dysfunction or over-activity of pain-sensitive features in your head cause primary headaches. They are not a symptom of or caused by an underlying medical condition. Some people may have genes that make them more likely to develop primary headaches.

Types of primary headaches include:

Tension-type headaches (most common type of headache).

This is the most common form of headache, affecting three-fourths of the general population. Tension-type headache was previously called muscle contraction headache. It is associated with the muscles of the neck, face, and jaw.

A person with TTH may feel: as if they have a tight band around their head a constant, dull ache on both sides of the head pain spreading to or from the neck.

Migraine headaches.

Migraine is the third most common and the seventh most disabling illness globally.

A migraine headache may involve pulsating, throbbing pain. It often occurs on one side of the head but may switch sides.

During an episode, a person may also experience:

o          Lightheadedness sensory disturbances, such as changes in vision, known as an aura sensitivity to light or sound nausea, possibly with vomiting Medication overuse headache.

o          Also known as rebound headaches and medication-misuse headaches, this type occurs in people who take medications to treat their headaches too often.

o          People with primary headache disorders like migraine often develop medication overuse headaches. These can cause migraine episodes to occur more frequently and become more severe.

o          Instead of alleviating symptoms, the medications cause headaches and increase their intensity and frequency.

Cluster headache

These headaches usually last between 15 minutes and 3 hours, and they may occur one to eight times per day.

Cluster headaches may frequently arise for 4–12 weeks, then disappear. They tend to happen at around the same time each day.

Cluster headaches often involve brief but severe pain around or behind the eye on one side of the face. This pain can radiate to other parts of the face.

Secondary headaches

An underlying medical condition causes secondary headaches. They are considered a symptom or sign of a condition.

Thunderclap headache

These are sudden, severe headaches that people often describe as the worst headache of their livesTrusted Source. They reach maximum intensity in about 30 seconds to a minute and slowly fade within a few hours.

A thunderclap headache is a secondary headache that can indicate a life-threatening condition, such as: Head injury and brain bleed.

A sudden, severe rise in blood pressure

People who experience these sudden, severe headaches should receive immediate medical care.

Spinal headache

Spinal headaches are intense headaches that occur when spinal fluid leaks out of the membrane covering your spinal cord, usually after a spinal tap. Most spinal headaches can be treated at home, but prolonged, untreated spinal headaches can cause life-threatening complications, including seizures.

What is the main cause of a headache?

Headache pain results from signals interacting among your brain, blood vessels and surrounding nerves. During a headache, multiple mechanisms activate specific nerves that affect muscles and blood vessels. These nerves send pain signals to your brain, causing a headache.

Headaches can also be triggered by environmental factors shared in a family’s household, such as:

Eating certain foods or ingredients, like caffeine, alcohol, fermented foods, chocolate and cheese.

Exposure to allergens.

Secondhand smoke

Strong odors from household chemicals or perfumes.

What headache symptoms require immediate medical care?

A sudden, new and severe headache.

Headache with a fever, shortness of breath, stiff neck or rash.

Headaches that occur after a head injury or accident.

Getting a new type of headache after age 55.

Also seek medical care right away if your headache is associated with neurological symptoms, such as: Weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance or falling

Numbness or tingling, paralysis, speech difficulties, mental confusion, seizures and vision changes

How is a headache treated?

Treatment for headaches depends on the type.

One of the most crucial aspects of treating primary headaches is figuring out your triggers.

Counseling and stress management techniques can help you handle this trigger better. By lowering your stress level, you can avoid stress-induced headaches.

Occasional tension headaches usually respond well to over-the-counter pain relievers. But be aware that using these medications too often can lead to long-term daily headaches (medication overuse headaches).

Other self-care treatments for headaches include: Applying heat or cold packs to your head, doing stretching exercises, massaging your head, neck or back

Resting in a dark and quiet room and taking a walk

How can I prevent headaches?

The key to preventing headaches is figuring out what triggers them. Triggers are very specific to each person — what gives you a headache may not be a problem for others. Once you determine your triggers, you can avoid or minimise them.

If your headaches are interfering with your daily functioning or affecting your mood, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider.

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