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Headache: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About headache

Headache is defined as pain in the head, the scalp and the neck. It can be of various kinds which may have different causes and treatment. Headaches can range from occasional to episodic to longstanding. Similarly, the causes of headache may range from mild to severe ailments. Headache may be an ailment in itself or a symptom of some other malaise.

Headache: Incidence, age and sex

Headache is a very common human ailment and frequently encountered in the general population. It may afflict an individual of any age and gender. The incidence of headache in different age groups and gender, varies according to the type of headache. For example, a tension headache has no gender predilection whereas the incidence of migraine is more in women as compared with men.

Signs and symptoms of headache: Diagnosis

The clinical features of headache depend upon the type of headache encountered in an individual. A tension headache is one of the most common headaches seen in individuals and is characterized by a dull and steady pain in forehead, temples and back of neck. On the other hand, migraine headache typically affects only one side of head and characterized by excruciating pulsating pain which may be associated with nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to bright light and noise. A cluster headache is another type of headache characterized by episodes of early morning sharp pain in the head. Such an episode may last for weeks followed by headache-free intervals.

Individuals with sinus headaches, experience pain in the forehead and face which is associated with post-nasal dripping or a clogged nose. Headache, in case of meningitis is associated with fever and stiffness of the neck.

Severe and persistent headaches need to be evaluated comprehensively to rule out any serious underlying ailments. The diagnosis of headaches in most of the individuals, is made on the basis of history.

Causes and prevention of headache

Tension headache is one of the most common types of headaches. Following are the causes of various types of headache:

  • Tension Headache – Arises due to spasm of the muscles of the shoulders and the back of neck. Triggering factors are stress, fatigue and lack of sleep.
  • Migraine Headache – Genetic preponderance, hormonal changes. Triggering factors are bright lights, noise and strong odours.
  • Cluster Headache – Cause not clear
  • Sinus Headache – Inflammatory type and occurs due to sinusitis
  • Premenstrual Syndrome – Headache usually encountered during premenstrual time every month
  • Headache may also be an associated symptom of fever.
  • Rare causes may include meningitis, encephalitis and stroke.

Headache: Complications

The complications of headache depend upon the type or underlying cause. However, a headache may be quite distressing to the individual and may affect his/her work and personal life.

Headache: Treatment

The treatment of headache depends upon the type and underlying cause. In fact, all headaches do not require treatment. Tension headache may get relieved by gentle massage of neck muscles, heat application or by taking acetaminophen. The treatment of migraine includes medications like ergotamine, sumatriptan and NSAIDs. Narcotic drugs which are highly potent may be needed in resistant and severe cases of migraine. Nasal decongestants and hot air steam may provide relief in sinus headache. Individuals with occasional, mild headaches may get benefit with acetaminophen.