What is headache?

Headache

Headaches: Overview

Headaches are one of the most common pain-related health problems in both children and adults. You may have a headache along with another minor health problem such as a sore throat, a cold, or a sinus problem.

Types of headaches

Most types of headaches usually aren't dangerous. Some headaches may occur again and again, such as:

  • Tension headaches. These are the most common type of headache. They are often caused by stress and emotional strain. Most adults have tension headaches from time to time, and everyone may have different areas of pain.
  • Cluster headaches.
  • Migraine headaches.

Common causes of headaches

Common causes of headaches may include:

  • Stress.
  • Skipping meals or not getting enough to eat.
  • Sleeping too much or not enough.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Sinus problems.
  • Getting too much or too little caffeine.
  • Certain foods or drinks.

In rare cases, a headache may be a symptom of a serious illness or injury.

What are common types of headaches?

Common types of headaches include migraine and tension headaches. The symptoms of these headaches are often similar. Describing a few key symptoms of your headaches may help your doctor find out what type of headache you have. This can help your doctor treat your headaches.

Key features of your headache that you can discuss with your doctor include:

  • Where or how bad the pain is.
  • What triggers the headache or makes it worse.
  • What common symptoms happen along with your headache. These may include nausea, a runny or stuffy nose, or sensitivity to light or noise.

Using good posture to help prevent headaches

Good posture and good body mechanics can help prevent tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back muscles. If your headaches seem to be related to tension in this area, maintaining good posture during daily activities may help prevent headaches.

Use good body mechanics all the time, not just when you have a headache or back pain. Here are some things you can do.

  • Keep your back in the neutral position.

    The key to good back posture is to keep the right amount of curve in your lower back—not too curved and not too flat.

  • Use good sitting posture for computer work.

    Adjust your monitor so that the top of the screen is at eye level.

  • Sit straight in your chair.
    • Sit with your lower back supported, feet flat on the floor, and shoulders relaxed.
    • If you sit a lot, take breaks once an hour to stretch your neck and back muscles.
  • Use a headset or speaker if you use the phone a lot.

    Don't cradle the phone between your shoulder and your ear.

  • Make sure that your work surface is at a comfortable level.

    Avoid reaching up or down to your work.

  • Avoid locking your knees while standing.

    When you stand for long periods of time, put one foot on a small stool. Switch feet now and then.

  • Use proper lifting techniques.

    Lift with your legs, not your back.

  • Avoid exercises that require you to hyperextend your neck.

    Bike riding is one example of this.

What medicines are used to prevent headaches?

Preventive medicines are used to avoid severe or chronic headaches, such as migraines or cluster headaches. They are not used to treat headaches after they begin.

Examples of preventive medicines are:

  • Anticonvulsants.
  • Antidepressants.
  • Beta-blockers.
  • Botulinum toxin.
  • Calcium channel blockers.

In order for these medicines to work, you will need to use them exactly as your doctor tells you to. You may need to take them daily even when you do not have a headache. Some people only have to take preventive medicines for a few months. Other people need to take them long-term. Botulinum toxin is given as multiple shots.

Managing a headache: Overview

Most of the time, headaches get better or go away with home treatment and don't require a visit to a doctor. Home treatment for headaches can often help reduce how long you have pain and how severe it is. Start home treatment as soon as you can.

If your doctor has prescribed a specific treatment for your headaches, begin treatment as soon as a headache starts. Be sure to follow the doctor's instructions when you take any prescription medicine for your headache.

If you are taking headache medicine more than 2 days a week, talk with your doctor. Taking medicine too often can cause more headaches. Work with your doctor to find the best treatment for your headaches.

Headaches: Keeping a Diary

Headache: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have signs of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, paralysis, or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a new or worse headache.
  • Your headache gets much worse.

How can you use a headache diary to find headache triggers?

You can find out what may trigger your headaches by keeping a headache diary.

In a headache diary, you write down:

  • What you eat and drink.
  • What type of exercise you do and when you do it.
  • The overall state of your health.
  • What the weather is like (hot or cold, rainy).
  • Other things that might affect your headaches, such as strong feelings or stressful events.
  • When you get a headache and how bad it is.
  • What medicine you take when you get a headache, and how well it works.

Over time, you may see a pattern to your headaches. For example, maybe you get a headache after you drink wine or eat a certain food.

It may take only a few months before you can find your headache triggers. When you find your triggers, you can take steps to manage or avoid them.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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