Headaches are the most common and disabling conditions worldwide as well as one of the most common causes for a visit to a doctor. Usually, they are self-limited and not of a serious nature. However, even though chronic headaches such as migraines and cluster headaches are not serious, they can certainly reduce a patient’s quality of life or be potentially life-threatening.
Headaches are diagnosed by a healthcare provider after a history is taken, symptoms are reviewed, and an examination is performed. In some cases, further testing, such as bloodwork, X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans are ordered. A headache diary kept by the patient and shared with the provider can also prove to be very useful.
Headaches cannot be completely prevented, but the number of headaches may be decreased by being aware of symptoms, identifying the cause, and having a physician provide a treatment plan.
Types of Common Headaches
Migraines are recurring headaches that are characterized by throbbing or pulsating and often occur on one side of the head. Movements, bright lights, or loud noises tend to worsen the pain. Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms with stomachaches sometimes occurring, especially in children. Migraines may also be accompanied by blurry vision or lightheadedness.
Tension headaches produce a dull and constant pain. They may be felt on both sides of the head or feel like a band across the forehead. They are often accompanied by tightness or pressure.
Cluster headaches are oftentimes so severe that most people cannot sit still as they often occur in recurring groups. Cluster headaches can cause eyes and the nose to become red and swollen.
Rebound headaches, also known as medication overuse headaches, can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, anxiety irritability, depression, and trouble sleeping.
Sinus headaches can cause pain in the forehead, cheekbones or around the nose. They may also be accompanied by a runny nose, swollen face, and occasionally a fever. The mucus from the nose may be yellow or green.
Post-Medical Event Headaches
While common headaches are often easier to detect and treat, there are in some instances, headaches that follow certain medical episodes, which are more grave in nature. These types of headaches should be treated immediately by a medical provider. Examples of these headaches include:
- Headaches accompanied by a ruptured aneurysm are often described by patients as “the worst headache of my life.”
- Headaches accompanying a stroke are often described as a severe headache with either facial drooping on one side, weakness of one or more limbs, or slurred speech.
- Headaches caused by a brain tumor are characteristically worse in the early mornings or evenings.
Reasons for Contacting a Primary Care Physician
While there are certain emergency situations that require more immediate attention, there are less severe symptoms that should be noted as a reason to contact a Primary Care Physician. Some of these examples include:
- Headaches that develop after age 50
- Headaches that suddenly change in nature
- Headaches that worsen over time
- Headaches that are accompanied by changes in personality
- Headaches that cause weakness
- Headaches that affect vision or speech
Reasons for Seeking Immediate Attention
If an individual experiences any of the symptoms below, it is best to seek medical help immediately. Help can be attained by visiting a local emergency room or calling 911 for assistance.
- Headaches accompanied by numbness, difficulty with speech, confusion, seizures, vision changes or weakness
- Headaches that follow a head injury
- Headaches accompanied by fever and a stiff neck
- Headaches brought on by extremely high blood pressure
Medicated Treatment for Headaches
If migraines occur more than two times a month, preventive medicines could be prescribed. There are many FDA-approved treatments for headaches that are sometimes used for other ailments, such as anti-seizure medicines, anti-depressants medicines and medicines used to lower blood pressure and even Botox injections.
There are new medications on the market that have been found to be very useful in to decreasing headaches, which can oftentimes be very expensive. There are also medications that are used specifically when a migraine occurs.
Non-Medicated Treatments for Headaches
A physician may be able to provide a non-medicated approach to ease the pain of headaches. Some of these treatments may include changes to a daily diet or habits that induce rest and relaxation. Some of other examples may include:
Change in food and dietary substances, such as Vitamin B2, CoQ10, magnesium and melatonin
- Non-vigorous exercise
- Restful and adequate sleep
- Nerve stimulators
- Behavioral therapy
The evaluation of headaches may be straightforward or challenging, and although often benign there are headaches that may pose more serious symptoms. If you would like to discuss your health in further detail, contact your TopLine MD Alliance affiliated physician.