Headache pain can start in different structures in the head. The brain itself doesn't hurt, but other parts of the head do. Headache is a common symptom of illness, such as a cold or the flu. At other times, headaches occur without seeming to be connected to any illness. Very rarely are headaches a sign of a serious medical problem.
Self-Care for Headaches
Most headaches aren't serious and can be relieved with self-care. But some headaches may be a sign of another health problem like eye trouble or high blood pressure. To find the best treatment, learn what kind of headaches you get. For tension headaches, self-care will usually help. To treat migraines, ask your doctor for advice. It is also possible to get both tension and migraine headaches. Self-care involves relieving the pain and avoiding headache "triggers" if you can.
Ways to Reduce Pain and Tension
Track Your Headaches
Call Your Doctor If You Have:
What Are Migraine and Tension Headaches?
Although there are several types of headaches, migraine and tension headaches affect the most people. When you have a headache, it isn't your brain that's hurting. Your head aches because nerves in the bones, blood vessels, and muscles of your head are irritated. These irritated nerves send pain signals to the brain, which identifies where you hurt and judges how bad the pain is.
Is It a Migraine?
Migraine is a throbbing pain felt on one or both sides of the head. You may feel nauseated. This headache may also be associated with changes in sight or sensation (aura). The pain may last for 4 to 72 hours. Afterward, you may feel shaky for a day or so.
Is It a Tension Headache?
This type of headache is usually a dull ache or a sensation of pressure on both sides of the head. It may be associated with pain or tension in the neck and shoulders. The pain may not have a definite beginning or end. It may come and go, or seem never to go away.
When to Call the Doctor
Preventing Migraine Headaches: Triggers
The first step in preventing migraines is to learn what triggers them. You may then be able to control your triggers to avoid or reduce the severity of your migraines.
Be aware that you may have more than one trigger, and that some triggers may work together. Common migraine triggers include:
Avoid triggers if you can. For example, stay clear of alcohol and foods that trigger your headaches. Use unscented household products. Keep regular sleep habits. Manage stress to help control emotional triggers.
Change your behavior at times when triggers can't be avoided. For example, make sure to get enough rest and drink plenty of water while you're traveling. Make sure to carry a hat, sunglasses, and your medications. Be alert for migraine symptoms so you can treat a migraine early if it happens.
Migraines and Cluster Headaches
Migraines and cluster headaches cause intense, throbbing pain on one side of the head. With a migraine, you may have nausea and vomiting and be sensitive to light and sound. You may also have warning signs, such as flashing lights or loss of vision, before the pain starts. Cluster headaches recur in groups for days, weeks, or months. The pain is centered around or behind one eye. Migraines and cluster headaches can have many causes.
To help prevent migraines and cluster headaches:
To relieve the pain:
What Is Referred Pain?
Referred pain has its source in one place but is felt in another. For example, pain behind the eyes may actually be caused by tense muscles in the neck and shoulders. This means that the place that hurts may not be the part of the body that needs treatment.
Signs of Tension Headache
Signs of Migraine
Dull pain or feeling of pressure in a tight band around your head
Throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head
Pain in your neck or shoulders
Nausea or vomiting
Headache without a definite beginning or end
Extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and smells
Headache after an activity such as driving or working on a computer
Bright spots, flashes, or other visual changes
Pain or nausea so severe that you can't continue your daily activities
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