A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp or neck. The severity, symptoms and causes of headaches vary. Any headache suffered can attest that a headache can stop the strongest and bravest in their tracks.
Headaches are the second most common cause for visits to primary medical offices.
Fortunately, only 1% of those headaches are due to a serious underlying intracranial pathology.
Two Types of Headaches
When you talk to your medical provider about your headaches, the first thing your practitioner will determine is whether your headache is primary or secondary.
Primary headaches are due to an over activity of pain-sensitive structures and may be due to chemical imbalance, blood vessel structure on your head, muscles in your neck or a combination of these factors.
The most common types of primary headache are:
In some cases, lifestyle factors play a important role as the cause for primary headaches. Some common headache triggers are:
- Certain foods, such as foods containing nitrates
- Muscle Spasms from poor posture
Secondary headaches are due to underlying disease. A wide variety of disease varying in severity can cause secondary headaches.
Some types of secondary headaches are:
- TMJ dysfunction
- Temporal arteritis
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage
- Brain tumor or abscess
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Trigeminal neuralgia
- Drug rebound headache
Many times it is difficult to determine whether a headache is primary or secondary in nature without a thorough medical examination.
Headaches are the second most common cause for visits to primary medical offices. Fortunately, only 1% of those headaches are due to a serious underlying intracranial pathology.
It’s important to note that a headache can be a symptom of a serious condition, such as a stroke, meningitis or encephalitis.
Headaches can occur suddenly or gradually and may last anywhere from hours to several days.
While most headaches aren’t life threatening, they can present in many different ways. Headache pain can be on
- one side of the head,
- both sides of the head,
- in a band around the head,
- around the eye
- or radiate from one location on the head to another.
When to seek emergency care for your headache
Seek immediate help if you have the worst headache of your life, a sudden, severe headache or a headache accompanied by:
- Confusion or trouble understanding speech
- High fever, greater than 102 F to 104 F (39 C to 40 C)
- Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of your body
- Stiff neck
- Trouble seeing
- Trouble speaking
- Trouble walking
- Nausea or vomiting (if not clearly related to the flu or a hangover)
You should seek medical attention immediately if your headaches are:
- Worsening/don’t improve with OTC medication
- Increase in frequency
- Increase in severity
- Interfere with daily tasks
- You are personally unable to manage/cope with your symptoms
Many people who experience headaches choose to treat them by simply taking over the counter medications rather than address the underlying reason for their headache. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to determine whether headaches could be the sign of a life threatening condition without a thorough medical evaluation.
If you’re having headaches of any kind, you should have your headaches checked by a qualified medical professional such as a chiropractor or medical doctor.
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