A headache is defined as a pain in the head or upper neck. It is one of the most common locations of pain in the body and has many causes. Serious causes of a headaches are extremely rare. Most people with a headache can feel much better by making lifestyle changes, learning ways to relax and, occasionally, by taking medications.
There are three major categories of headaches:
Primary headaches (tension, migraine and cluster)
Secondary headaches, caused by an underlying structural problem in the head or neck. There are numerous causes of this type of headache ranging from tumor, meningitis, encephalitis and bleeding in the brain.
Cranial neuralgias, facial pain and other headaches that occur because the nerves in the head and upper neck become inflamed and are the source of the headache pain
While tension, migraine, and cluster headaches are not life threatening, they can be debilitating and affect quality of life.
A tension headache tends to be on both sides of your head. They often start at the back of the head and spread forward. The pain may feel dull or squeezing, like a tight band or vice. Your shoulders, neck or jaw may feel tight and sore. The headache pain is usually persistent, but does not get worse with activity.
A migraine headache is a severe type of headache that usually occurs with other symptoms, such as visual disturbances or nausea. The pain may be described as throbbing, pounding or pulsating. It tends to begin on one side of the head, although it may spread to both sides. You may have an "aura" (a group of warning symptoms that start before the headache). The headache pain usually gets worse with movement.
Other headache types:
Cluster headaches are sharp, extremely painful headaches that tend to occur several times per day for months and then go away for a similar period. They are far less common.
A sinus headache causes pain in the front of the head and face. They are due to inflammation in the sinus passages that lie behind the cheeks, nose and eyes. The pain tends to be worse when bending forward and right away in the morning. Postnasal drip, sore throat and nasal discharge usually occur with this type of headache.
Headache causes are unknown, however, when the muscles covering the skull are stressed they may spasm and cause pain. A tension headache occurs with physical or emotional stress placed on the body and can be due to prolonged manual labor or sitting at a desk or computer for a long time. Emotional stress may also cause muscles surrounding the skull to contract.
Diagnostic tests that may be performed include the following:
Head CT scan
Temporal artery biopsy
For most common headaches the following medications typically work well:
Over the counter drugs listed above can have adverse side effects. If you are experiencing recurrent headaches or taking pain medications more than two days a week, seek medical help. Massage, biofeedback and stress management can all be used to help with headache control.
The following healthy habits can lessen stress and reduce your chance of getting a headache:
A healthy diet
Stretch your neck and upper body, especially if your work involves typing or using a computer
Learn to relax using meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or other techniques
Wear proper eyeglasses, if needed
National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke