A headache is pain or discomfort in the head or face area. Headaches vary greatly in terms of pain location, pain intensity, and how frequently they occur. This results in several categories of headaches. While the actual brain tissue doesn’t have pain-sensitive nerve fibers and doesn’t feel pain, other parts of the head can be responsible for a headache including:
Headaches are classified as primary or secondary.
A primary headache means the headache itself is the main medical problem, although other factors, such as muscle tension or exposure to certain foods, may be identified. Other contributing factors include medications, dehydration, or hormone changes.
A secondary headache is related to an underlying medical condition. An example of this would be a headache due to neck injury, eye problems, jaw, teeth or sinus infection.
Headache symptoms depend on the type of headache. The frequency of headaches and the intensity of the symptoms may vary as well. Typical headache symptoms include:
*Tension type headaches typically do not cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light. The symptoms of a headache may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
The full extent of the problem may not be understood immediately, but may be revealed with a comprehensive medical evaluation and diagnostic testing. The diagnosis of a headache is made with a careful history, physical examination and diagnostic tests.
Questions commonly asked during the exam may include, but are not limited to, the following:
If the history is consistent with migraine or tension-type headaches and the neurological exam is normal, no further diagnostic testing may be necessary. However, if it is not a primary type headache, then other tests may be needed to determine the cause which include:
Specific treatment for the headaches will be determined by your physician based on:
The ultimate goal of treatment is to stop headaches from occurring. Adequate headache management depends on the accurate identification of the type of headache and may include:
*Some headaches may require immediate medical attention including hospitalization for observation, diagnostic testing, or even surgery. Treatment is individualized depending on the underlying condition causing the headache. Full recovery depends on the type of headache and other medical problems that may be present.