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Headache, also referred to as cephalalgia, is a pain originating within the head or neck. It is one of the most common symptom and probably everyone experienced, or will experience, this type of ailment at one point of life. It affect all sexes, ethnicities and ages and may occur as a consequence of many different disorders, presenting itself with various intensity range. They are divided into 2 major categories, primary and secondary, and primary ones are prevalent approximately 9 times more often than secondary ones. Headache most common causes include sleep disorders, stress, fatigue, head injury, viral infections and drugs side effects.
Headache is a general term for the pain originating within the head. It may appear with various range of intensity, and can be concentrated in one location or affect larger areas. It is often caused due to stimulation to the meninges, spinal nerves or blood vessels. Pain receptors in such areas might be stimulated by, for instance, head trauma, inflammation or tumor. Nevertheless, the exact mechanism resulting in this type of pain is still unknown. Headaches can be divided into 2 major categories, based on the underlying cause. They include primary and secondary headaches, and primary ones represent 90% of all incidents.
It needs to be noted, that brain do not have pain receptors, thus headache cannot appear as a result of a damage to this particular organ.
Primary type is caused by internal head malfunctions and is not associated with any underlying condition. Although such headaches are recurrent and may be very painful, they are usually benign in nature and not dangerous.
The most common primary headaches include:
- Tension-type headache –responsible for 90% of all headaches, which makes them the most common ones, and are described by the feeling of a pressure to the head. It is usually mild or moderate and affects larger areas symmetrically.
- Migraine – pulsating type of the pain, which frequently affects one half of the head and is present from few hours to even three days in a row.
- Cluster headache – recurrent and severe pain originating from around the eye. This type usually lasts for approximately one hour, but it might continue up to 3 or 4 hours. It is also characterized by the impact to the surrounding tissues, like eye or nose, which further leads to e.g. eye watering or swelling and runny nose.
Secondary type of headache appears as a result of an underlying disorder and is present along with other associated symptoms and signs. It can indicate several various conditions, including those dangerous ones.
The most common causes of the secondary type include:
- Brain tumor
- Medication overuse
In majority of the cases, a treatment involves painkillers (analgesics) intake. They may include NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen. Apart from those, the therapy can also be based on beta blockers, antidepressants or acetaminophen. In case of secondary headache, however, the treatment includes several various methods, which are performed accordingly to the underlying condition. For instance, in case of tumor, surgery or radiation therapy may be performed, while meningitis requires antibiotics or steroids intake.
In addition, overuse of painkillers may actually worsen headache, thus they need to be administrated wisely, and preferably under a healthcare provider supervision.