Headache, Migraine Pain

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What is it?

Headache is one of the most common types of pain experienced by humans. It can occur at any age.  

Headaches are usually harmless, but occasionally they can be a pointer to a serious disease such as brain tumour or stroke.  

According to the Headache Australia, more than five million Australians are affected by headache and migraine.

There are several types of headaches. Each headache affects a person differently, so it is important to consult a doctor if the head pain persists.  

The three basic types of headaches are:

  • Tension

  • Cluster

  • Migraine headaches  

Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches among adults and adolescents. These muscle contraction headaches cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over a prolonged period of time.  

Cluster headaches are the least common – though the most severe type of primary headache.

The term "cluster headache" refers to headaches that have a characteristic grouping of attacks. Cluster headaches occur one to three times per day during a cluster period, which may last two weeks to three months. 

Cluster headache pain is intense and may be described as having a burning or piercing quality that is throbbing or constant. The pain is located behind one eye or in the eye region, without changing sides. The headaches maydisappear completely (go into "remission") for months or years, only to recur.  

Migraine headaches have a tendency to run in families. They are characterized by chronic, severe headaches of intense throbbing or pulsating pain that can last from four hours to several days.

Other migraine symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound.

Migraine is more common in women than in men.

What causes it?

There are many causes of headaches including:

  • Allergies

  • Aneurysm

  • Arthritis

  • Brain cancer or tumours

  • Diet

  • Eyestrain

  • Fasting

  • Fever

  • Hangover

  • Head injury

  • Hormonal

  • Hypertension

  • Infection

  • Sinus

In some cases, the headaches may be the result of a blow to the head (trauma) or rarely a sign of a more serious medical condition.  

Headache pain results from signals interacting between the brain, blood vessels and surrounding nerves.

During a headache, specific nerves of the blood vessels and head muscles are activated and send pain signals to the brain.

Headaches that occur suddenly (acute-onset) are usually due to an illness, infection, cold, or fever.  

Other conditions that can cause an acute headache include sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), pharyngitis (inflammation or infection of the throat), or otitis (ear infection or inflammation).  

Tension headaches are usually brought on by stress or emotional strain. They can also be caused by alcohol use, skipping meals, changes in sleep patterns, excessive medication use, tension and depression. 

Other causes of tension headaches include eyestrain and neck or back strain due to poor posture.  

Headaches can also be triggered by specific environmental factors that are shared in a family's household, such as exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, strong odors from household chemicals or perfumes, exposure to certain allergens, or eating certain foods.

Pollution, noise, lighting, and weather changes are other environmental factors that can trigger headaches for some people.  

The exact causes of migraines are unknown. They are related to blood vessel contractions and other changes in the brain as well as inherited abnormalities in certain areas of the brain.

Too much physical activity can trigger a migraine in both adults and children.

Common treatments  

Treatment depends on several factors, including the type and frequency of the headache and its cause. Be sure to consult a doctor to find out what is causing your headaches. Your family doctor can evaluate your headache symptoms. The treatment prescribed for you will be tailored to meet your specific needs. Not all headaches require medical attention. Treatment may include education, counseling and medications.  

Common treatments for head pain include:

  • Prescribed and over the counter medications

  • Change of diet

  • Massage

  • Rest

  • Stress Management

  • Physical therapy

  • Relaxation therapy


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About Pain does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment