Learning About the Different Types of Headaches
Many people experience headaches at various times during their lives. The types – and their associated symptoms – can vary widely, ranging from occasional, tension-induced pressure to chronic, debilitating migraines. While headaches can be painful and annoying, most occurrences are not a cause for alarm. However, it’s always a good idea to see a doctor if you notice anything that is unusual for you; e.g., symptoms that are exceptionally severe or occurrences that are more frequent than normal.
Some of the more common types of headaches are:
- Tension headaches – Often attributed to muscle contractions in the face, neck, and scalp that occur in response to stress or heightened emotion, tension headaches can create a band of mild to moderate pressure that comes and goes over a period that can range anywhere from a few minutes to a few months. Over-the-counter pain relievers are usually sufficient for treating the pain associated with a tension headache.
- Migraines – A migraine is an intense headache that can result from enlarged blood vessels in the brain, as well as the release of chemicals from the nerve fibers that surround those blood vessels. This reaction can be triggered by hormonal changes, certain foods, skipping meals, stress, sensory simulation, and sleep cycle changes, among other things. Prior to the onset of a migraine, an individual might experience one or more sensory warning signs, such as flashing light, blind spots, tingling in the arms or legs, nausea, vomiting, and heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and certain odors. The throbbing pain of a migraine can last for several hours or days. While migraines can’t be cured, a physician can help a patient manage the symptoms with medication.
- Cluster headaches – The least common but most severe type of headache, a cluster headache is actually a group, or cluster, of headaches that are triggered when the trigeminal-autonomic reflex pathway (a nerve pathway at the base of the brain) is activated. The underlying cause is unknown. The burning, throbbing pain associated with a cluster headache is usually centered behind one eye, and generally occurs one to three times per day during each cluster period, which can last for approximately two weeks to three months. A physician can prescribe a treatment plan designed to decrease the severity of pain, shorten the headache period, and prevent future episodes. Common approaches include medication and the administration of oxygen and local anesthetics.
Of course, any form of pain is the body’s way of signaling an injury or illness. Sometimes – particularly when a headache is accompanied by neurological symptoms like dizziness, weakness, loss of balance, speech difficulties, mental confusion, personality changes, numbness, paralysis, seizures, personality changes, or vision changes – the pain can be indicative of a serious underlying condition. When these types of symptoms develop, a patient should seek prompt medical attention.
If you have questions or would like to consult with a physician about headaches or for any other reason, please feel free to contact or visit South Tampa Immediate Care.