June is headache awareness month, so let’s take some time to look at all things headache. There are said to be 150 different kinds of headaches from cluster headaches to sinus headaches. And the most commonly known, migraine headaches. Each kind of headache contains some kind of pain and that pain can be located indifferent parts of the head based on the kind of headache! We will also look at other symptoms that accompany the headache that range from nausea to double vision. Below in part one of a three part series we will talk about the types of headaches that are most common, as well as possible causes for headaches overall. So let’s just jump right in!
Most Common Types of Headaches
The two most common kinds of headaches are tension headaches and migraines so we will discuss those first.
Tension Headaches– These are the most common type of headache among teenagers and adults. Generally, this type of headache causes mild to moderate pain and come and go over time. On most occasions they have no other symptoms. It is said that 80-90% of the population suffer with this kind of headache at some point in their life. Overall, 80% of women and 69% of males will experience tension headaches. With age of first onset is usually between 9 & 12 years of age.
Migraine Headaches– These Headaches are often described as “intense.” The pain from a migraine is often described as pounding or throbbing pain, and often last from a few hours to a few days at a time. The frequency is going to be different for everyone but on average happen one to four times a month, or potentially more. Sadly most who suffer from migraines also deal with other symptoms that accompany the headache. The symptoms can range from person to person, but the most common are sensitivity to light, noise or smells. Migraines can also bring on nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, belly pain or upset stomach. For children with migraines their symptoms can be different. They can look pale, feel dizzy, have blurry vision, a fever or an upset stomach.
Research shows about 16-17% of the population will suffer from migraines at some point, with the median age of onset between 5-8 years of age. Migraines are by far the most debilitating kind of headache. It is said that 25% of women and 8% of men suffer from migraines. Research shows that 60% of migraines present on one side of the head. 80% of migraine sufferers report that there are some kind of trigger that causes their headache. Just to give you an idea of how many people suffer from migraines and how much of their lives are dedicated to dealing with migraines. It is reported that 157 million work hours are missed each year due to migraines.
Other Types of Headaches
Cluster Headaches– Those who experience these headaches say that this type of headache is intense and feels like a burning or piercing pain behind or around one eye, and is usually throbbing or constant. It is the least common type of headache but often causes the most severe type of headache. People who suffer from these headaches often say the pain is so severe that they can’t sit still and will often be seen pacing during an attack. The pain is often said to be one sided and the eyelid can droop on the side of the pain. The eye may redden, while the pupil decreases in size or tears. The nostril on the side of the head where the pain is can either run or feel stuff. The reason they are called cluster headaches is because they tend to happen in groups. They may happen one to three times a day during a cluster period, and that period may last 2 weeks to 3 months. And each single headache attack may last 15min to 3 hours and may often wake the patient up from sleep! The headaches may disappear or completely go into a state of remission for months or years. Cluster headaches affect men three to four times more often than women.Sinus Headaches- These headaches often cause a deep and constant pain the cheekbones, forehead or bridge of the nose. They are caused by the sinus cavities in the head becoming inflamed. The headache usually does not come alone, it is usually accompanied by a runny nose, feeling of fullness in the ears, a fever, and even swelling in the face. A true sinus headache is caused by a sinus infection, which usually causes yellow or green discharge from the nose, unlike the clear drainage noted in cluster or migraine headaches.
Hormonal Headaches – Last but definitely not least. These headaches are seen primarily in women. They happen from changing hormone levels during menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause. Headaches may also be triggered by birth control pills in some women.
Most Common Causes of Headaches
What actually causes the pain of a headache? The pain that is felt during a headache comes from a mix of signals between the brain, blood vessels and nerves in the area. Specific nerves of the blood vessels and head muscles switch on and send pain signals to your brain. It is not the totally clear why these signals turn on to begin with.
People often get headaches due to:
Illness: Anything from an infection, cold or fever can cause a headache. Also common conditions like inflammation of the sinus cavities, an infection of the throat, or even an ear infection.
Stress: Any kind of emotional stress or depression, as well as alcohol use, skipping meals, change in sleep patterns or taking too much medication.
The environment: things like being around secondhand smoke, strong smells from cleaners or household chemicals, perfumes, allergens, certain foods, pollution, noise, lighting, and weather changes are possible trigger
Trauma: In some cases headaches may be caused by a blow to the head or rarely may be a sign of something more serious.
Other causes can include things like: eyestrain, neck or back pain, poor posture and even to much exercise.
Sadly, Headaches especially migraine headaches, tend to run in families. Most kids and teenagers (90%) that have migraines often are not the only one in the family. Most of the time there are other members of the family who also suffer from migraine headaches. Kids who have two parents that have a history of migraines have a 70% chance that they will also develop migraines. If only one parent has headaches the risk will drops to between 25-50%.
America complain about headaches more than any other medical condition. It is said that there are approximately 45 million Americans who complain of headaches every year. If you break that down it works out to one in every six people or 16.54% of the population who deal with headaches. Research shows that more than 8 million Americans will seek medical treatment for headaches EACH YEAR!
Headaches impact a huge number of people every year. The the causes of headaches are multifaceted, and will impact every body differently. There are over 150 types of headaches and they are each slightly different than the next. What causes one person’s headache may not cause the next persons. Be on the lookout for the next part of this series, during which we will be looking at how headaches may be diagnosed. And in the last issue of the series we will be looking into treatment options for migraines.