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Headache – Types, Causes and Treatment

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Headache – Types, Causes and Treatment

What Is A Headache?

Headaches; they are the most common medical complaints hearing by a doctor these days. Most of the people experience Headache at some point in their life.

A Headache is a pain that occurs in the region of the head or the upper neck. It can occur on either side of the head, radiate throughout the head from one point or isolated at a precise location. A headache might appear as a throbbing sensation, a sharp pain or a dull ache. It may go within a few hours or even take several days.

According to WHO reports, almost half of the adults worldwide experiencing a type of headache at a particular time. 

What Are The Types Of Headaches?

There are different types of headache and it is easy to identify the type of headache your facing when you know the exact symptoms of associated with your headache. The symptoms will vary with the type of headache you are facing. 

Most of the headaches may not cause serious illness, but some type of headaches may be life-threatening which requires emergency care.

Headaches are classified based on the cause and as follows:

  • Cluster headache
  • Migraine headache
  • Tension headache
  • Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia (TAC)

Cluster Headache:

Cluster headaches are one of the most painful types of headaches. They occur in cyclical patterns or clusters. Cluster headaches can occur at any time, most commonly you may awake in the middle of the night with intense pain around one of your eyes and a side of your head.

They may occur frequently every day for weeks or months and know as cluster periods. The exact cause of the cluster headaches is unknown. However, cluster headaches are severe but not life-threatening and certain treatments, medications can reduce the severity of headaches.

Symptoms: Some of the common symptoms to recognize cluster type of headaches are 

  • Throbbing pain around one eye and may radiate to other areas of your face, head, neck and shoulders 
  • Excessive tearing
  • Swelling around your eye
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Redness in your eye
  • Stuffy or a runny nose 
  • Restlessness

Causes: They are the most common type of headaches and affects every 1 in 1000 people. Cluster headaches are most common in men than in women. They may cause due to the biological changes in the body, family history with cluster headaches, consumption of alcohol, cigarette, use of certain medications such as nitroglycerin might also cause a cluster headache. 

Treatment: When it comes to the treatment you several options for these kinds of treatments. Acute treatments like Oxygen; Your doctors suggest inhaling 100% oxygen through a face mask for 15 minutes. This is a safe and inexpensive procedure. 

Triptans: Drugs like sumatriptan (Imitrex), lidocaine (Xylocaine), dihydroergotamine (D.H.E. 45) is given in the form of an injection or used as nasal spray and zolmitriptan (Zomig), taken as a nasal spray or in the form of tablet for the relief of a cluster headache. Octreotide (Sandostatin) which is an injectable synthetic version of the brain hormone that controls cluster headaches.

Preventive treatments like calcium channel blockers, occipital nerve block, occipital nerve stimulation, lithium carbonate, melatonin, neuromodulation etc, used for cluster headaches.

Migraine Headache:

It causes severe throbbing pain on one side of your head. Often, it is accompanied by vomiting, nausea, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. When migraine attacks pain lasts for hours to days and pain can be more severe with time.

Symptoms: Migraines headache can occur at any stage of life. It may progress through four stages: prodrome, aura, headache and post-drome, one may not experience all the stages. 

You may experience symptoms associated with migraine headaches  like

  • Constipation
  • Neck stiffness
  • Increased thirst and urination 
  • Pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg
  • Vision loss blurred vision
  • Confusion 
  • Moodiness 
  • dizziness

Causes: The exact cause of migraine headache is yet be known, but genetics, Imbalances in the brain chemicals and environmental factors might play a crucial role to effect from a migraine headache. Changes in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve (a major pain pathway) might be one of the cause.

Some of the factors which may trigger migraines are 

  • Hormonal changes 
  • Certain foods & food additives 
  • Drinks 
  • Stress 
  • Sensory stimuli
  • Changes in the wake-sleep pattern
  • Use of specific medications
  • Some physical factors

Treatments: There are many medical options to treat migraines, some of them are pain-relieving medications like aspirin or ibuprofen, acetaminophen, Triptan medications include sumatriptan (Imitrex), rizatriptan (Maxalt), almotriptan (Axert), zolmitriptan (Zomig), eletriptan (Relpax) etc. 

Drugs like ergotamine and caffeine combination, anti-nausea medications,  opioid medications like codeine, glucocorticoids like prednisone and dexamethasone to improve pain relief etc.

Preventive migraine medications which include cardiovascular drugs, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, onabotulinumtoxinA (Botox) etc.

Tension Headache: 

A tension headache is also one of the most common types of headaches. It is a mild, moderate, or intense pain in your head, neck, or behind your eyes, that’s often described as a tight band-like feeling around the head.

They are the most common type of headaches in adults also called stress headaches. There are categorised into episodic tension headaches which occurs less than 15 days a month and chronic tension headaches which can occur more than 15 days a month. Generally, these headaches last from an hour to a few days.

Symptoms: People with a tension headache may face symptoms like

  • Pressure around the forehead
  • Dull or moderate head pain
  • Feeling very tired
  • Irritability
  • Trouble in sleeping
  • Tenderness around the forehead and scalp etc.

Causes: There’s no single cause for tension headaches. Experts used to say that they are caused due to muscle contractions in the head and neck regions, face and scalp. But the exact cause is yet to know. However, let’s look at some of the factors which can trigger tension headaches 

  • Alcohol 
  • Strained and dry eyes
  • Fatigue 
  • Smoking 
  • Cold or flu
  • Sinus infection
  • Caffeine 
  • Poor posture and emotional stress etc.

Treatment: Early treatment when the symptoms are mild is the best way to get rid of a tension headache. Doctors might recommend OTC (over-the-counter) pain medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin, to get relief from a tension headache. However, they should be used occasionally.

Sometimes OTC drugs might not enough to treat recurring tension headaches. In such cases, doctors recommend you other medications like indomethacin, ketorolac, naproxen, opiates, prescription-strength acetaminophen etc.

If painkillers aren’t working, your doctor may also recommend you some muscle relaxant medication which helps to stop muscle contractions. 

Trigeminal Autonomic Cephalalgias (TACs)

Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia is a type of primary headache that occurs with intense pain on one side of the head in the area of the trigeminal nerve. TACs are a group of primary headaches which includes cluster headache, paroxysmal hemicrania, Hemicrania and unilateral neuralgiform headache that attacks with SUNCT syndrome etc.

Symptoms of TACs include eye-watering and redness or drooping eyelids. Unilateral Neuralgiform headache with cranial autonomic symptoms etc.

Causes: The exact cause of TACs is yet to find. Generally, TACs are thought to be primary headache disorders. However, the number of TAC cases are increasing due to posterior fossa or pituitary lesions. Particularly, SUNCT and SUNA are disproportionately represented excessively in headaches due to pituitary micro or macroadenoma.

Intracranial(within the skull) tumours are probably secondary causes of TACs. Among the tumours, the occurrence of pituitary tumours is especially high.

Treatment: Treatment includes managing the symptoms of cluster headache, paroxysmal hemicrania, Hemicrania etc. with different types of medication. Most of the pituitary tumours are functioning tumours. The removal or medical treatment of those tumours can also reduce headache in most of the cases.

Most headaches rarely become a sign of a serious issue and most people try to manage them with OTC painkillers. However, if anyone experiences serious, persistent, recurrent or worsening headaches then they need to consult a doctor immediately before it puts your life in danger. We, Sunshine Hospitals having the best Neurologists in Hyderabad treated numerous headache cases. Book an appointment right away to meet our expert doctors.

About The Doctor:

Dr. Vinod Kumar K – Consultant Neuro physician


Dr. Vinod Kumar K is a Consultant Neuro physician at Sunshine Hospitals. He completed his MBBS in Osmania Medical College, MD(General Medicine) in Gandhi Medical College and DM(Neurology) in Osmania Medical College, Hyderabad. He worked as a senior resident in Osmania General Hospital, and also as a consultant neuro physician at Apollo Hospitals for two years. He is also a Member in the prestigious Indian Medical Association(IMA) and IANCON. In his career, he improvised the quality of life for hundreds of Epilepsy, Brain stroke, Headache and Movement Disorder patients.

About Sunshine Hospitals:

A Multi Super Speciality Institution, 500 bedded Sunshine Hospitals (Paradise Circle, Secunderabad) is promoted by globally reputed Joint Replacement Surgeon Dr AV Gurava Reddy (Orthopedic Doctor) and like-minded associates who share the objective of making world-standard healthcare available, affordable and accessible to the common man. Sunshine has now become one of the best hospitals for many treatments including Orthopedic, Gastroenterology, Cardiology, Trauma and Neurology.

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