Head Aches

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Headaches can be a symptom of many different problems; they are not a disease. Headache pain occurs in the tissues covering the brain, the attaching structures at the base of the brain, the muscle and the blood vessels around the scalp, face and neck. Headaches could be primary or secondary. Primary headache occurs when disease or other medical condition is not the cause and secondary headache is caused by another disorder such as sinusitis infection, neck injuries or abnormalities and stroke.
The three most common primary headaches are tension or muscle contraction headache, migraine headache and cluster headache. It is not uncommon to experience combinations of these headaches. Some experts have concluded that all headaches are derived from the same mechanism that causes migraine and are simply variations on a single biologic theme.
Tension Headache
This type of headache is caused by muscle contractions in the head, neck and shoulders, often due to stress, fatigue or other causes. It is often described as a tight feeling in the head as if the head is in vice. Soreness in the shoulders or neck is common. Tension headache can last from a few minutes to days and may occur daily in some sufferers; nausea is not usually associated with this type of headache, though depression, anxiety and sleeping problem may accompany persistent headache.
Migraine Headache
Migraine headache is vascular in nature caused by changes in the blood vessels of the head. Many people consider any bad headache as migraine, but most headaches are not. A prodome phase (pre-migraine) may precede a migraine attack by several hours or even a day or two. This phase may include sensitivity to light or sound, changes in appetite, fatigue or mood change. About 20% of migraine sufferers have pre headache sensory disturbances called “auras”- which include “seeing” zig-zag lines, stars, shimmering areas, blind spots and tunnel vision (inability to see the sides). Some sufferers may also experience speech disturbances, tingling or numbness and or weakness in the arm or leg, perpetual disturbances such as space or size distortion or confusion. Migraines usually last 15-45 minutes though the periods are unpredictable. Some foods such as cheese, chocolate, red wine and or coffee can trigger a migraine headache. Migraine headache is most common in women.
Cluster Headache
This is a variant of migraine headache characterized by sporadic episodes of extreme pain on one side of the head. Typically, episode begins during the night, waking its victim with an intense, nonthrobbong pain usually centered in and around one eye. The affected eye is red and waters profusely and the nostril on that side produces clear fluid or is stuffed. The pain often lasts several hours, and then disappears, only to return within few hours or at the same time next day. After several repeated, “clusters”, the headache disappears and may not occur for several years. This type of headache is most common in men.
Relaxation, stretching and massaging the muscles of the shoulders, neck, jaw and scalp usually is beneficial. Hot bath and drinking plenty of fluids help in some cases. Pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) also help in case of tension headache. Keeping away from triggering factors such as certain foods, alcohol, tobacco is recommended as part of the treatment. Avoid crowded schedules and leave yourself time for relaxation. The moment you suspect migraine headache coming, take whatever drug you and your physician have found most effective; it is far easier to abort a migraine in its early stages than to control the pain once the headache reaches its peak. Treatment for cluster headache includes but not limited to antihistamines combination with pain relievers. Persistent, frequent headaches could be a symptom of a more serious condition; so have a talk with your pharmacist or physician.
Victor A. Ehiemua R.Ph