Headaches can be localized to one area or they can affect your entire head. There are a wide variety of underlying conditions that can cause them, too, but the good news is, the majority of them are benign. Despite the fact that most headaches are not caused by significant underlying conditions, they can still have a dramatic negative impact on your ability to think clearly and function in daily life.
If you have been experiencing recurrent or chronic headaches, it’s always a good idea to head to a pain management center to have your symptoms checked out by an expert. These specialists will be able to rule out rare but potentially severe underlying conditions and offer medical advice regarding how to best treat benign causes. Note that headaches that are not caused by other underlying pathologies are referred to medically as primary headaches, while those that are symptomatic of other diseases are considered secondary headaches.
Understanding Secondary Headaches
It’s important to keep in mind that even if you have been diagnosed with secondary headaches, the underlying condition causing them could still be either malignant or benign. The most severe of underlying pathologies that cause headaches include intracranial hemorrhages and hematomas, strokes, meningeal infections, and malignant hypertension. In certain cases, secondary headaches can also be caused by benign or malignant tumors or certain ophthalmologic diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts. Treating the underlying conditions causing these headaches is often enough to solve the problem.
Understanding Primary Headaches
There are three main types of headaches that are considered primary, rather than secondary. These are known as cluster headaches, tension headaches, and migraines, and each of them must be treated differently. The bottom line, though, is that if you’re wondering what to do for a headache, the first step to take is always to seek a detailed diagnosis from a specialist.
Our pain management doctors have access to all of the diagnostic imaging equipment they need to diagnose the underlying cause of your headache on-site. They may order radiological studies such as MRIs or CT scans, blood work, neurological exams, or even vision assessments in order to rule out certain underlying pathologies. Ruling out other diseases and disorders helps doctors to classify your headache according to its appropriate category.
Understanding Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches cause severe unilateral pain that can last anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours. There are several risk factors that can make patients predisposed to cluster headaches, including recent alcohol or drug use, the prescription of vasodilating medications, neurological complications such as Horner’s syndrome, and sinus pressure. It’s also important to note that cluster headaches tend to occur in the same areas of the head around the same time of day.
Men tend to be more prone to cluster headaches than women, and they tend to begin appearing around the age of 25. Ultimately, though, anyone can develop cluster headaches at any age. If you’ve been experiencing the symptoms described above, we can help you find the ongoing headache relief you need.
Understanding Tension Headaches
The majority of adults suffering from chronic headaches are experiencing tension headaches rather than cluster headaches or migraines. The pain associated with them is often described as being insidious and restrictive and may be made worse by the presence of bright lights, loud noises, and stress. Tension headaches are most likely to occur near the end of the day and often affect the back of the head and neck.
Diagnosing tension headaches can be a challenge, as they are not associated with any kind of measurable neurological disturbance. The presence of secondary symptoms such as sleep disturbance, poor concentration, and depression is often indicative of tension headaches. However, doctors must exclude all other possible causes in order to determine whether or not their patients are struggling with this form of headache.
Migraine headaches can begin during any stage of a patient’s life and their symptoms can vary quite dramatically. If you have a migraine, you may experience your pain as being unilateral or bilateral. It may last for an hour or a day, but chances are this throbbing pain will be quite intense.
There are two main categories of migraine headaches, known as classical and common. Classical migraines are those in which a patient’s pain is unilateral and manifests neurologically. Common migraines, on the other hand, are often bilateral and are not associated with neurological problems such as unexplained flashing lights, peculiar smells, vision loss, weakness, numbness of the face, and altered consciousness levels.
Patients suffering from both forms of migraines often report nausea and vomiting in addition to pain and are often extremely sensitive to bright lights and loud sounds. In fact, migraines can sometimes be triggered by loud sounds, bright lights, and even certain foods, medications, and exercises. Women are more prone to migraines as well and tend to experience them during certain times of their menstrual cycles.
The type of treatment we recommend will depend largely on the headache causes that are leading to your pain and distress. Medications can often ease the pain, but it may also be necessary to make lifestyle changes in order to avoid triggers for migraines. Relaxation techniques such as meditation can also be helpful, as can biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy, especially if your headaches are being triggered by underlying emotional or psychological problems.
Treatment for cluster headaches often requires more immediate measures than those suggested for tension headaches and migraines, as most simple pain relievers don’t work fast enough to offer significant help. Recent research has shown that inhaling high doses of oxygen can help, as can nasal applications of pain medicines like lidocaine. Some medications used for treating migraines, such as Imitrex, can also be used to treat tension headaches if they are taken as early as possible after symptoms begin to occur.
Ultimately, choosing the right treatment plan depends on you and your doctor’s ability to determine what causes headaches everyday in your unique case. There are a wide variety of treatment modalities available, and what works for one person won’t always work for everyone. That’s why it’s essential that you seek help from a clinic like ours that offers advanced multidisciplinary care and the ability to accurately diagnose the root cause of your headaches.