Headaches are a very common health problem, and the term always refers to some form of pain emanating from the head. Of course, the cause, specific symptoms and degree of the headache can vary drastically from person to person. Most people, about 70 percent, have at least one headache a year.
There are many different types of headaches, and each can vary in frequency and severity. If a headache is painful and feels like a tightening sensation in the head, but is not debilitating, it's most likely a tension headache. These result from bad posture, stress or other circumstances and are common in women older than 20.
If a headache is intense, throbbing and debilitating, it could be a migraine headache. These can last from a few hours to a few days, and they're often accompanied by sensitivity to light and noise. Many migraine headaches are preceded by an "aura," which refers to telltale visual symptoms that occur right before the migraine attack. Some people get several migraines a month, others experience them only a few times a year or less.
Cluster headaches, another type of headache, are more common in men, and they typically affect just one side of the head. They last about 30 to 45 minutes, but they sometimes occur several times a day. Cluster headaches are usually related to increased blood flow in a specific part of the head.
Treatments are available for all types of headaches, but the approach will vary based on how severe the headache is. For example, tension headaches often can be handled at home with over-the-counter pain medications and relaxation techniques. For cluster headaches, you may need to see a doctor about prescription medications. Oxygen therapy is another possibility for treating cluster headaches. A variety of approaches are used to treat migraines, including medications that address the acute symptoms of the migraine and medications that can prevent a migraine from occurring. For migraine headaches, it’s best to work closely with a doctor to find a solution that works best for you.
SOURCES: American College of Physicians; National Headache Foundation
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