Headache Fact Sheet

According to this classification system established by the International Headache Society in the International Classification of Headache Disorders, there are four primary types of headaches: migraines, tension-type headaches, cluster headaches and other primary headaces.

A tension-type headache is the most common type of primary headache. It is experienced as mild to moderate pain in the head or neck.

A migraine is a moderate to severe headache often accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, vomiting and weakness. Six percent of men and 18 percent of women are thought to experience a migraine headache during their lifetime. A migraine may display in up to four stages, the prodrome, the aura, the headache and the postdrome.
 

A cluster headache is a rare headache type most often experienced by men in their 20's. It is felt as a piercing pain, usually behind the eye on only one side of the face. Cluster headaches typically occur at the same time each day over a period of weeks or months, followed by a period of regression during which no headaches are experienced for up to a year or more.

A women's migraines can actually decrease during pregnancy especially in the 2nd and 3rd trimester.

The treatment of a headache varies based on the type of headache. Tension-type headaches may respond to over-the-counter painkillers including aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen.

Migraines are often treated with over-the-counter painkillers including aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen, or with prescribed medications such as a triptan. Cluster headaches may be relieved by triptans or with oxygen inhalation. Frequent migraine and cluster headache sufferers may also consider treatment plans that prevent the onset of headaches.

Factors that contribute to increased risk of headaches include: obesity, smoking, drinking alcohol, too much or too little physical exertion, and stress.

In order to diagnose and treat a headache, it can be helpful to a doctor if the patient keeps a record of headache incidences. The record should include the length, day and time of the headache, any food or drink that was taken prior to the headache, any activity underwent before the headache, and what, if anything, helped alleviate the pain.

The underlying cause of headaches is largely unknown, however research has revealed some information about the cause and mechanism of headaches. Common migraine triggers include stress, hunger and fatigue. Tension-type headaches can occur as a response to injury, stress or other activity that requires tension in the head and neck. Some research suggests that the cause of cluster headaches can be traced to abnormal activity in the hypothalamus, the region of the brain responsible for the biological clock.

A headache patient may be able to lessen his or her risk for headaches or lessen the frequency, duration or severity of headache pain by making lifestyle changes. Some of these changes include: reducing stress, improving sleep habits, losing excess weight, decreasing smoking or alcohol intake and improving posture or ergonomics if spending long periods at a desk or driving or in other uncomfortable positions.