Causes of headaches commonly fall into four categories: Vascular (conditions affecting the blood vessels), tension, inflammatory and those associated with abnormalities of the cranial nerves (the nerves supplying the face, head and neck). There are no nerve endings in the brain itself.
Therefore, a headache is a painful sensation in the muscles, the skin or in some organ around the head or around the brain. The pain can be confined to a small area or cover the entire head. Some headaches are preceded by auras (sensations that things are not quite right). These auras can be visual, associated with smell, or auditory (sounds). Most headaches are benign, that is, they are self–limiting and not likely to be serious. However, some headaches are not, and they require extensive evaluation.
Causes & Risks of Headache
What are the causes and risks of headaches?
Many things cause headaches. Vascular headaches are of the migraine type and can be either classic or common. Vascular headaches include cluster headaches (Severe, one–sided headaches that occur in groups) and headaches associated with hangovers or exposure to toxins and other drugs.
Tension headaches are caused by stress, conversion reactions (Psychological problem causing symptoms that resemble an actual physical condition) or arthritis, abnormalities in the neck, muscles or bones.
Inflammatory headaches are caused by lesions such as tumors, meningitis (Infection or inflammation of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord), bleeding within the head, auto–immune diseases (Diseases in which the body produces chemicals that attack itself), or arteritis (Inflammation of the wall of an artery). Cranial neuralgias (Severe pains in or about the face or scalp) are caused by trigeminal (Nerve sensing feelings in the face, cheek and jaw) or glossopharyngeal (Nerve controlling the throat and vocal cords) nerve abnormalities. Most people have experienced some type of headache in their lives.
Symptoms of Headache
What are the signs and symptoms of a headache?
Prevention & Treatment of Headache
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What can be done to prevent the condition?
Many causes of headaches are not preventable. However, some causes such as stress, can be reduced. Some forms of treatment can help to reduce the intensity and duration of migraine and cluster–type headaches. When headaches are caused by a space–occupying lesion (Any abnormality, such as a tumor, that presses on normal brain tissue), hemorrhage, meningitis or arteritis, it is important to treat the underlying abnormality. There are treatments for cranial neuralgias.
Is It Serious?
“I have very bad headaches and fear that I may have a brain tumor.” What should I do?
Most headaches are not a sign of an underlying brain tumor. Symptoms such as visual disturbances, persistent vomiting, constant headache which changes with posture, headaches which worsen in the morning, headaches associated with seizures and weakness of extremities are suggestive of more serious underlying conditions. One should visit a doctor if any of these symptoms are there.
Headaches, usually, are not associated with any kind of family history. However, some headaches, especially vascular–type headaches and some tumors, can run in families.
Treatment for Headache
Treatment of headaches is usually quite simple, involving analgesics (Pain medications) that can be found in over–the–counter medicines such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin, as well as avoidance of triggers (Chemicals, foods, or events that cause the headaches, such as stress, alcohol, caffeine and dieting) that are known to cause headaches.
Side–effects of treatment
Acetaminophen and ibuprofen have few side effects, although ibuprofen can affect the gastrointestinal tract and the kidneys if taken on a long term basis.
After–effects of treatment
Complications of headaches are usually limited. However, some causes of headaches such as space–occupying lesions, hemorrhages or meningitis may cause significant complications.
Long–term effects of treatment
Most people do not have any significant long–term effects because their headaches are benign and recur infrequently. However, many people who have vascular type headaches experience a significant loss in the quality of life because of these headaches. People who have space–occupying lesions as well as hemorrhages (bleeding) and meningitis are at risk of severe illness and death.
Diagnosis of Headache
How is the condition diagnosed?
Most headaches do not require extensive testing. However, some symptoms may require Computed tomographic (CT) examination of the head (special three–dimensional X–ray), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the head (special three–dimensional image using magnets), electroencephalography (EEG) (recording of brain waves), skull X–rays, lumbar puncture (spinal tap), electromyelography (EMG) (recording of muscle’s electrical activity), biopsy of the arteries (collecting a piece of the artery and examining it under the microscope), or testing of the levels of certain drugs or toxins in the blood.