Headaches are common; they visit everyone at least once in their lifetime. The severity either leads to popping pills or rushing to consult a doctor to get to the bottom of it. The causes of headaches are varied ranging from stress related issues, to scary & serious brain tumors, head injuries or hemorrhages. It is important to determine the correct underlying cause of this pain for successful treatment and to avoid complications.
Migraine is the commonest cause of headache. It affects about 5-15% of mostly younger population and is more common in women. Migraine can be diagnosed on the basis of symptoms. The headache of Migraine classically affects only one side of head, however, involvement of both sides can occur. Headaches are described as throbbing or pulsating and last for more than 4 hours (maximum 72 hours). There could be nausea or vomiting along with headache. Headaches get aggravated with exposure to bright lights or loud noise. Once the diagnosis is made, treatment is easy. There is common misconception that migraine is untreatable and one is destined to suffer lifelong. However, this is not true. Now, there are effective medications available to treat migraine. Even in more severe cases, Botox treatment can be effective.
Tension headache is another common headache mostly observed in women. This can be also be diagnosed on the basis of clinical symptoms. The headache generally involves the back of head and neck though there is no nausea or vomiting and exposure to bright light or noise does not make it worse. These headaches usually show up towards the end of day, as one gets exhausted with daily chores. Sleep disturbance may also be present. There are effective treatments for tension headaches also.
Analgesic Overuse Headache
There are instances where people suffering from migraine or tension headache keep on popping pain killers, and they do not take effective treatments. Overuse of painkillers (more than 15 tablets per month) can exacerbate headaches instead of relieving them. This condition is referred to as analgesic overuse headache. Treatment involves minimizing the use of painkillers and starting effective treatments.
How to recognize if the headache has a serious underlying cause?
Fortunately, most cases of headache are not serious and are caused by migraine or tension headache. However, the presence of the following warning signs should prompt immediate evaluation by a neurologist to detect a more serious underlying cause of headache:
- The most severe headache of lifetime,
- A recent change in the nature and severity of headaches,
- Blurred or double vision,
- Weakness of arm or legs,
- Fits or seizures,
The above signs could indicate brain tumor, brain hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) or brain fever. Though these conditions are serious, they can be effectively treated if diagnosed early.