What you need to know about headaches

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - ADVERTORIAL -

HEADACHE is pain in any re­gion of the head. Headaches may oc­cur on one or both sides of the head, be iso­lated to a cer­tain lo­ca­tion, ra­di­ate across the head from one point, or have a vise­like qual­ity.

A headache may ap­pear as a sharp pain, a throb­bing sen­sa­tion or a dull ache. Headaches can de­velop grad­u­ally or sud­denly, and may last from less than an hour to sev­eral days.


Your headache symp­toms can help your doc­tor de­ter­mine its cause and the ap­pro­pri­ate treat­ment. Most headaches aren’t the re­sult of a se­ri­ous ill­ness, but some may re­sult from a life-threat­en­ing con­di­tion re­quir­ing emer­gency care. Headaches are gen­er­ally clas­si­fied by cause:

Pri­mary headaches

A pri­mary headache is caused by over­ac­tiv­ity of or prob­lems with pain-sen­si­tive struc­tures in your head. A pri­mary headache isn’t a symp­tom of an un­der­ly­ing dis­ease.

Chem­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in your brain, the nerves or blood ves­sels sur­round­ing your skull, or the mus­cles of your head and neck (or some com­bi­na­tion of th­ese fac­tors) can play a role in pri­mary headaches. Some peo­ple may also carry genes that make them more likely to de­velop such headaches. The most com­mon pri­mary headaches are:

◆ Clus­ter headache

◆ Mi­graine

◆ Mi­graine with aura

◆ Ten­sion headache

◆ Trigem­i­nal au­to­nomic cepha­lal­gia (TAC), such as clus­ter headache and parox­ys­mal hem­i­cra­nia

A few headache pat­terns are also gen­er­ally con­sid­ered types of pri­mary headache but are less com­mon. Th­ese headaches have distinct fea­tures, such as an un­usual du­ra­tion or pain as­so­ci­ated with a cer­tain ac­tiv­ity.

Although gen­er­ally con­sid­ered pri­mary, each could be a symp­tom of an un­der­ly­ing dis­ease. They in­clude:

◆ Chronic daily headaches (for ex­am­ple, chronic mi­graine, chronic ten­sion-type headache, or hem­i­cra­nias con­tinua)

◆ Cough headaches

◆ Ex­er­cise headaches

◆ Sex headaches Some pri­mary headaches can be trig­gered by life­style fac­tors, in­clud­ing: ◆ Al­co­hol, par­tic­u­larly red wine

◆ Cer­tain foods, such as pro­cessed meats that con­tain ni­trates

◆ Changes in sleep pat­terns or lack of sleep ◆ Poor pos­ture

◆ Skipped meals


Sec­ondary headaches

A sec­ondary headache is a symp­tom of a dis­ease that can ac­ti­vate the pain-sen­si­tive nerves of the head. Any num­ber of con­di­tions — vary­ing greatly in sever­ity — may cause sec­ondary headaches. Pos­si­ble causes of sec­ondary headaches in­clude:

◆ Acute si­nusi­tis (si­nus in­fec­tion)

◆ Ar­te­rial tears (carotid or ver­te­bral dis­sec­tions)

◆ Blood clot (ve­nous throm­bo­sis) within the brain — sep­a­rate from stroke

◆ Brain aneurysm (a bulge in an artery in your brain)

◆ Brain AVM (ar­te­ri­ove­nous mal­for­ma­tion) — an ab­nor­mal for­ma­tion of brain blood ves­sels

◆ Brain tu­mor

◆ Car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing

◆ Con­cus­sion

◆ De­hy­dra­tion

◆ Den­tal prob­lems

◆ Ear in­fec­tion (mid­dle ear)

◆ En­cephali­tis (brain in­flam­ma­tion)

◆ Gi­ant cell ar­teri­tis (in­flam­ma­tion of the lin­ing of the ar­ter­ies)

◆ Glau­coma (acute an­gle clo­sure glau­coma)

◆ Han­govers

◆ High blood pres­sure (hy­per­ten­sion)

◆ In­fluenza (flu) and other febrile (fever) ill­nesses

◆ In­tracra­nial hematoma

◆ Med­i­ca­tions to treat other dis­or­ders

◆ Menin­gi­tis When should you seek emer­gency care? A headache can be a symp­tom of a se­ri­ous con­di­tion, such as a stroke, menin­gi­tis or en­cephali­tis. Go to a hos­pi­tal emer­gency room or visit your doc­tor if you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the worst headache of your life, a sud­den, se­vere headache or a headache ac­com­pa­nied by:

◆ Con­fu­sion or trou­ble un­der­stand­ing speech

◆ Faint­ing

◆ High fever

◆ Numb­ness, weak­ness or paral­y­sis on one side of your body

◆ Stiff neck

◆ Trou­ble see­ing

◆ Trou­ble speak­ing

◆ Trou­ble walk­ing

◆ Nausea or vom­it­ing (if not clearly re­lated to the flu or a hang­over)

When should you sched­ule a clinic/doc­tor’s ap­point­ment? It is im­por­tant to sched­ule a clinic or doc­tor ap­point­ment when your headaches have the fol­low­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics:

◆ Oc­cur more of­ten than usual

◆ Are more se­vere than usual

◆ Worsen or don’t im­prove with ap­pro­pri­ate use of over-the-counter drugs

◆ Keep you from work­ing, sleep­ing or par­tic­i­pat­ing in nor­mal ac­tiv­i­ties

◆ Cause you dis­tress, and you would like to find treat­ment op­tions that en­able you to con­trol them bet­ter.

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