Headaches can be a nuisance, but they can also be a sign of something more serious. Knowing the different types of headaches and their causes can help you better understand your symptoms and get the right treatment. Primary headaches are the most common type of headache. These include migraines, tension headaches, cluster headaches, and new persistent daily headaches.
Migraines are usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Tension headaches are usually caused by stress or muscle tension and can cause a dull, aching pain on both sides of the head. Cluster headaches are intense, one-sided headaches that come in clusters and can last from 15 minutes to 3 hours. New persistent daily headaches are chronic headaches that occur every day for more than 3 months. Sometimes, exertional headaches can be the result of cardiovascular problems.
If so, the doctor may recommend tests to check a person's cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health. A doctor may prescribe medicines, such as antiemetics, to help relieve these symptoms and control nausea and vomiting. Caffeine intake can also be a factor in some types of headache. A high caffeine intake of more than 400 milligrams (mg) or about 4 cups of coffee per day can sometimes cause headaches. In people who consume more than 200 mg of caffeine a day for more than 2 weeks, withdrawal can cause migraine-like headaches.
They usually develop 12 to 24 hours after stopping abruptly, peak at 20 to 51 hours and can last from 2 to 9 days. Secondary headaches often start out of nowhere and are unbearable. Often, these types of headaches are the result of a buildup of pressure that occurs when performing an activity, which causes a strain on the body in general, but especially on the head. However, repeated attacks or certain types of headaches may indicate a more serious health condition. The hypothalamus, an area located at the base of the brain, is responsible for the body's biological clock and can be the source of this type of headache. Some types of headache can be prevented with medicines, while others can be caused by the same medicine.
If you have any type of headache all the time, it's important to talk to your primary care doctor so they can help you create a treatment plan or refer you to a specialist. You may be more susceptible to this type of headache if you use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers often.
Preventing HeadachesThe best way to prevent primary headaches is to identify and avoid triggers that may cause them. This includes reducing stress levels, getting enough sleep, avoiding certain foods or drinks that may trigger migraines or other types of headache, and avoiding overuse of OTC pain relievers. If you have secondary headaches due to an underlying medical condition, it is important to follow your doctor's instructions for managing that condition. This may include taking medications as prescribed or making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking or exercising regularly.
When to See a DoctorIf you experience frequent or severe headaches that interfere with your daily activities or if you have any other symptoms such as fever or confusion along with your headache, it is important to see your doctor for evaluation. Your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical exam to determine if there is an underlying medical condition causing your headache.
Depending on your symptoms and exam findings, they may order additional tests such as blood tests or imaging studies such as an MRI or CT scan.