A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck. Serious causes of headaches are very rare. Most people with headaches can feel much better by making lifestyle changes, learning ways to relax, and sometimes by taking medications.
The most common type of headaches are likely caused by tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp, and jaw. These are called tension headaches.
Migraine headaches are severe headaches that usually occur with other symptoms, such as vision changes or nausea.
Rebound headaches -- headaches that keep coming back -- may occur from overuse of painkillers. These may also be called medication overuse headaches. Patients who take pain medication more than 3 days a week on a regular basis can develop this type of headache.
Other types of headaches:
Rarely, a headache may be a sign of a more serious cause, such as:
There may be things you can do to relieve the symptoms of a headache. Try to treat the symptoms right away.
When migraine symptoms begin:
If your doctor has already told you what type of headaches you have, you can do many things to manage migraines or tension headaches at home. Your doctor may have already prescribed medicines to treat your type of headache.
Keep a headache diary to help find the source or trigger of your symptoms. Then change your environment or habits to avoid future headaches. When a headache occurs, write down:
Try acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen for tension headaches. Do NOT give aspirin to children because of the risk of Reye syndrome. Do not take aspirin, ibuprofen, or any other blood thinners if there is a chance that you might have bleeding in your head (from a subdural hematoma, aneurysm, or other injury). Talk to your doctor if you are taking pain medicines 3 or more days a week.
Some headaches may be a sign of a more serious illness. Anyone who has these danger signs should seek medical help immediately:
Your health care provider will take a medical history and will perform an examination of your head, eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, and nervous system.
The diagnosis is usually based on your history of symptoms. A "headache diary" may be helpful for recording information about headaches over a period of time. Your health care provider may ask questions such as:
Tests may include:
Pain - head; Rebound headaches; Medication overuse headaches
Digre KB. Headaches and other head pain. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 405.
Kwiatkowski T, Alagappan K. Headache. In: Marx JA, Hockberger Rs, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2009:chap 101.
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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