Most headaches are caused by muscle spasms in the back of the head and neck. The spasm can be sparked by emotional stress or by holding the head in a fixed position for long hours. At times the pain can be extremely severe and feels as if the head is in a vise-like band.
Relaxing tight muscles through massage, hot showers and heating pads or cold packs, including biofeedback and muscle-relaxation training may prove to be helpful.
While some people find relief with non-traditional techniques, like acupuncture, hypnosis or meditation, non-prescription pain relievers often help with occasional headache. In very severe cases, prescription analgesics like aspirin and acetaminophen may also do the trick.
However, prescription analgesics are not always useful because they tend to lose their effectiveness, encourage dependency, and cause "rebound" headaches when the effect of the starts to wear off. On the other hand, tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline or Imipramine could prove to be a less addictive and often more effective alternative; these medications affect the pain pathways in the brain. Nonetheless, these drugs must be used for several weeks before they can take effect. Since much lower doses are needed for pain, there are generally few or no side effects.
Drugs that help constrict blood vessels may also relieve pain if taken at the first sign of the headache.
What are the different types of headaches?
There are several types of headaches; almost 150 diagnostic headache categories have been established! However, the most frequently reported ones include:
Tension headache: Also called chronic daily headaches or chronic non-progressive headaches. These headaches are the most common and generally affect both adults and adolescents. These headaches come on when the muscles contract that cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over a prolonged period of time.
Migraines: There exact cause is unknown, although it is understood that they are related to blood vessel contractions and other changes in the brain as well as inherited abnormalities in certain areas of the brain. Pain can often be anything from moderate to severe, and is often described as pounding, throbbing pain. The pain last for about 4 hours to 3 days and generally occurs 1 to 4 times per month. Moreover, migraines are associated with sensitivity to light, noise or odours; nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite; and stomach upset or abdominal pain.
When children have a migraine they often look pale, feel dizzy, have blurred vision, fever, stomach upset, in addition to the above listed symptoms. A small number of pediatric migraine patients have recurrent gastrointestinal symptoms, in which vomiting is the most common symptom. These migraines are also referred to as abdominal migraines.
Mixed headache: Also known as transformed migraines, this is a combination of migraine and tension headaches. Both adults and children experience this type of headache.
Cluster headaches: The term "cluster headache" refers to a characteristic grouping of attacks. The least common as well as the most severe, the pain during a cluster headache is intense and can also be described as having a burning or piercing quality that is either throbbing or constant. Excruciating pain makes it difficult for most sufferers to sit still and can often be found pacing during an attack. The pain is generally located behind one eye or in the eye region, and does not change sides.
These headaches normally occur one to three times per day, lasting anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months. The headaches may go into remission for months or years, only to recur one fine day.
Sinus headaches: Associated with a deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead or bridge of the nose, the pain generally intensifies with sudden head movement or straining. Moreover, it usually occurs with other sinus symptoms, like nasal discharge, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and facial swelling.
By Mark Bevan
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