Headaches are one of the most frequent health complaints. They can be simply disturbing or completely unbearable. Many headaches disappear without any treatment. Some are effortlessly cured while others are stubborn and recurring. But hardly do headaches warn of a serious illness.
A headache is not pain in the brain, though it is may feel like it. The brain itself does not have pain-sensitive nerve cells. Instead, nearly all headaches originate in the network of nerves and nerve-rich muscles and blood vessels that surround your face, neck and head. These pain-sensitive nerve cells can be activated by muscle tension, enlarged blood vessels, stress and other triggers. Once stimulated, the nerve cells transmit messages to the brain, causing you to be in pain.
Around 95% of headaches are primary headaches, meaning they are not caused by an underlying medical condition. Other headaches, called secondary headaches, stem from medical disorders like head injury, swollen sinuses or tumors.
If you are feeling stressed, depressed or worried - or if you are lack of sleep - you are at risk for a tension headache. Most of diagnosed headaches are related to stress or muscle tightness, usually in the shoulders, neck, scalp or jaw. Tension headaches can cause a feeling of painful pressure on the neck and head. It sometimes feels like the grip of a stretched elastic band around your head.
Migraine headaches are the second-most frequent, striking about 3 times more women than men. Migraine pain is often described as extreme, throbbing or pulsing. Migraine sufferers can have severe sensitivity to light and sound. In some cases, nausea and vomiting come along with the headache. Although the real cause of migraine pain is still a mystery, one theory is that it is linked to blood vessels widening and tightening which surround the brain, which irritates the nearby nerves.
A less familiar but more severe form of headache happens in "clusters," repeatedly at the same time of day for a number of weeks. These cluster headaches often begin abruptly as a sharp or burning pain centered around one eye which can last up to 3 hours.
Most people can relieve headache pain by making lifestyle changes, learning ways to relax and taking pain relievers. If these approaches do not work, your doctor may have more suggestions.
Let your health care provider know if you have sudden, severe headaches. Get medical help right away if you have a headache after a blow to your head, or if you have a headache along with fever, confusion, loss of consciousness or pain in the eye or ear.