Headaches: Types, Causes, and Treatment Options

brain nerves

Headaches may result from dehydration, stress, hormonal imbalance, or medication side effects. Find out various treatment options available for headaches here.

Headaches causes, treatments

Headaches are a common phenomenon that affects half of the adults at least once in a given year. It manifests as a sharp, throbbing, or dull pain in any head region.

Headaches result from several underlying causes and often differ in intensity, ranging from mild to acute. They may be concentrated on one region of the head or occur on one or either side of the head. The pain may also radiate from one point of the head to another.

While mild headaches subside and disappear over a few hours, acute headaches or those that last for days may require special medical attention.

What are the Different Types of headaches?

There are generally two types of headaches depending on the underlying cause: Primary and secondary headaches.

There are generally two types of headaches depending on the underlying cause: Primary and secondary headaches.

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches are common recurrent headaches not caused by any underlying condition or disease.

They result from the overactivity of pain-sensitive nerves of the head.

90% of all headaches reported are often primary headaches, which are not physiologically harmful to the body.

Types of primary headaches include:

  • Migraines: Severe pulsating head pains that mostly appear on one side of the head and can last for three hours to four days. Migraines often result from imbalances in the hormone serotonin, which regulates the brain’s sensitivity to pain.
  • Chronic tension headaches: Mild to moderate headaches resulting from heightened stress or tension levels
  • Cluster headaches: Intense cyclical headaches that occur in cluster periods and often occur due to abnormalities in the hypothalamus part of the brain.
  • Whiplash headaches: Chronic pains that develop after a whiplash injury and originate from the skull base.
  • Occipital neuralgia: Severe head pains that develop due to irritation of the occipital nerve located at the base of the brain.

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are often symptoms of an underlying condition that activates the pain-sensitive nerves of the brain.

Examples of conditions that may lead to secondary headaches include:

  • Brain tumor
  • Dehydration
  • Blood clots in the brain
  • Concussion
  • Hypertension
  • Panic disorder
  • Meningitis
  • Gastrointestinal infections

What Are The Causes Of Headaches?

Headaches are caused by several reasons which vary between individuals. Some of the most common causes of headaches include:

  1. Stress and anxiety: These are the most common causes of headaches that result due to emotional distress and mental tension.
  2. Dehydration: Dehydration limits the normal circulation of blood and might result in regular headaches.
  3. Underlying illness: Headaches are common symptoms of underlying illnesses such as hypertension, malaria, typhoid, etc.
  4. Head injury: People who’ve had a head injury once in their lifetime are prone to consistent headaches.
  5. Withdrawal symptoms: Headaches are also common withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
  6. Effects of medication: Some medications prescribed due to certain illnesses may cause a headache as a side effect. Overuse of pain relievers such as ibuprofen may also result in headaches.
  7. Hormonal imbalance: Disruption in the normal balance of hormones such as serotonin, which control the brain’s sensitivity to pain, may result in regular headaches.
  8. Post-surgery side effects: Headaches are also common side effects of medical or cosmetic surgical procedures such as breast augmentation.
  9. Insomnia: Lack of enough sleep can also lead to headaches due to exhaustion.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Headaches?

Various options are available for treating headaches depending on the underlying cause and severity of the headache:

· Medication Therapy

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as naproxen, aspirin, and ibuprofen help relieve headaches.

However, patients should see a medical professional for advanced treatment if the headache persists. Skilled pain-relief professionals will determine the root cause of the headache and develop an appropriate treatment plan according to the patient’s needs.

They also offer interventional pain management and alternative therapies to help reduce the intensity of headaches.

· Peripheral Nerve Stimulation

Headaches can also be treated through peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) for people who fail to respond to medical treatment.

PNS involves electrical stimulation of the peripheral nerves using a pulse generator device. When stimulated, the peripheral nerves lower the brain’s sensitivity to pain, thereby reducing the severity of headaches.

People who experience constant headaches should get a certified neurologist to examine them and determine the need for peripheral nerve stimulation.

· Drink Lots of Water to Stay Hydrated

The easiest self-treatment for dehydration headaches is to drink a lot of water to restore the normal circulation of blood.

In addition to water, patients can rehydrate by taking drinks such as:

· Milk

· Fruit juices

· Energy drinks

· Coconut water

For hospital-based treatment, a basic IV fluid drip will help replenish body fluids and alleviate dehydration headaches.

· Healthy Lifestyle (Physical Activity)

People who experience constant headaches should adopt a healthy lifestyle, which incorporates physical activity to manage pains.

Long hours of physical inactivity often cause fatigue and lack of energy, resulting in headaches. Getting physically active helps improve blood circulation and replenish energy levels.

Low-intensity physical activities they can do to reduce headache incidences include:

· Walking

· Jogging

· Dancing

· Cycling

· Stretching

When Do I Need to See the Doctor?

Consistent headaches can signal a serious health condition like a stroke which may cause severe damage if the victim fails to get immediate medical attention.

If a sharp headache appears suddenly and lasts between hours to days, the best thing to do is to see a medical doctor for a diagnosis. Headaches accompanied by symptoms like fatigue, vomiting, fever, confusion, fainting, numbness, or trouble speaking also require immediate medical attention.