We’ve all experienced a headache before. Whether it’s due to stress, lack of sleep, injury, motion sickness, or any other number of causes, headaches can become a real nuisance! However, it may be surprising to learn that there are actually over 25 different types of headaches, with very different causes, symptoms, and treatments. This week The Medical Station takes a look at the five most common types of headaches, and how to treat them.
Tension-type headaches (TTH) are the most common type of headache and are characterized by pain or pressure around the head, particularly in the temples and at the back of the neck. Although there are many causes of tension headaches, they are most commonly caused by stress and emotional distress. This stress causes the muscles in the head and neck to contract and tense up, causing the headache. Stress can also cause chemical changes in the brain, leading to a headache. Tension–type headaches can last from mere minutes to a few days. There are plenty of over-the-counter medications that relieve TTH, including ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen (Tylenol). Plenty of rest is also recommended.
Although coffee can be a great pick-me-up and make your mind feel alert and content, it can also have its downsides. The main causes of these headaches are caffeine overdose, caffeine allergy, caffeine sensitivity, and varied-caffeine consumption, however the primary cause is caffeine withdrawal. Caffeine-withdrawal headaches commonly occur when one has a routine regarding their coffee-drinking habits for a certain amount of time, and then that routine gets thrown off course. They can also occur when someone drinks too much coffee (or has a caffeine addiction) and then stops drinking it altogether. Caffeine headaches are characterized by a throbbing sensation in the head, similar to a hangover. It is caused by the rebound dilation of the blood vessels a couple days after ceasing to consume caffeine. Treatments for caffeine headaches include rest, hydration, and ceasing caffeine consumption.
Although there are many types of migraines and headaches caused by migraines, the most common type of migraine is characterized by severe, one-sided throbbing pain, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. To quality as a migraine, the patient must have had at least five prior episodes of headaches, experience the ache for between four and seventy-two hours, and must experience either nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, or sensitivity to sound. Migraines can be a hereditary disorder, but can also occur due to certain foods, the birth control pill, excessive stress, changes in sleep and eating patterns, smoking, menopausal hormones, excessive hunger, and changes in light, altitude, or weather. Treatments for migraines include products containing caffeine, ice packs, isometheptene, DHE nasal spray, ibuprofen, or triptans, among other types of medications.
Ironically, headaches can occur from taking painkillers. More specifically, they occur when one takes painkillers too often. The headache can occur either because the painkillers excite the brain, causing more headaches, or because the headaches are a symptom of withdrawal as the levels of the drugs in the system become lower. It is recommended that one does not consistently take a pain relievers such as Tylenol, Advil, aspirin, or Motrin more than twice a week, and that one does not take triptans for more than 10 days in a month. Those experiencing the headaches should not attempt to treat them themselves. Instead, visit a doctor who will stop the responsible drug, opting for an alternative drug or will detox the patient.
Cluster headaches are short-lived one-sided headaches that are extremely painful. Cluster headaches reoccur regularly, and are so excruciating that they are often referred to as the suicide headache. Their reoccurrence is at random, sometimes even happing multiple times in a day, and then ceasing for months, and even years. Cluster headaches are often accompanied by redness and tears in the eyes, as well as nasal congestion. There are no known causes to cluster headaches, however factors such as alcohol, cigarettes, and high altitudes can all trigger a cluster headache. Treatment for cluster headaches is triptans such as Frova or Maxalt.