FAQs About Headache Pain and Treatment

What is a headache?

A typical headache is a pain that arises in a person’s head, eyes, scalp or which reaches into the neck area. There are rare cases of very extreme headaches but when they occur they should get immediate medical attention. In most of the cases, headache can be treated through changes to a person’s daily activities, more rest and relaxation, injections or even medications. At this time, there is absolutely no way to completely cure a headache.

What are the types and causes of headache pain?

Tension headaches

A lot of people suffer from headaches due to tension, which is basically stiffness in muscles of the neck, scalp, shoulder blades, upper back as well as jaw. These sort of headaches could be caused as a result of stress, bad posture, worries or even depression.

Tension headaches usually begin behind one’s head and then move to the front of the head. They appear and disappear but generally persist along either side of one’s head. It has been estimated that almost 50 million people in the United States have some form of headache and the largest population of sufferers appear to women, 50% of whom suffer tension headaches, while 20% of them suffer from migraines.

  • Caffeine, NSAID’s, Tylenol
  • Combination medications such as Excedrin (contains caffeine, aspirin,  and acetaminophen)
  • Triptans and Opiates

You may also consider preventative medications used for tension headaches. They are:

  • Tricyclic Antidepressants (e.g. amytriptaline)
  • Muscle Relaxers (e.g. tizanadine)
  • SSRI’s (e.g. Prozac or Paxil)
  • Anticonvulsants (e.g. Neurontin)

Cluster headaches

A cluster headache is often described as a pain that is as bad as giving birth to a child without the help of painkillers, or even worse than that. It starts as a sharp stabbing pain in the region of one of your eyes and can last anywhere between 15 minutes to three hours. They are so painful that they are called suicide headaches because people who have these headaches have been known to kill themselves just to get rid of the pain.

The very exact reason for a cluster headache is unknown, but it is noted to originate from the trigeminal nerve in the base of the brain. When activated, this nerve pathway can cause the eye pain and spread to other areas to give rise to the symptoms of typical cluster headaches.

Treatment for Cluster headaches can be either abortive or preventive. In abortive treatment, patients can use oxygen, triptan medication as well as nasal lidocaine. A triptan medication could be given at the same time for better results.

Preventive treatments can include verapamil which is first line of treatment given with alternative medications and it includes methysergide, the anti-convulsant Topiramate or lithium. Magnesium or even Vitamin D supplements may also be useful.

Migraine headaches

Migraines are very painful and can also be accompanied by other signs like blurred vision, photophobia and nausea. The migraine pain is a dull throbbing pain that occurs only on one side of patient’s head and in rare cases, both sides of the head.

The pain from a migraine can become even more aggravated if the person walks around so they need to rest to reduce the pain. Nearly 30 million people in the US are affected by migraines, according to data from the National Headache Foundation. Out of these, it is found that women are 3 times more likely to suffer from a migraine than men.

Treatments for migraines include:

  •   NSAID’s
  •     Narcotics
  •     Ergots
  •     Butalbital
  •     Anti-depressant Medication
  •     Triptans
  •     Beta Blocker Medication
  •     Supratrochlear Nerve Blocks
  •   Anti-nausea medication
  •     Acupuncture
  •     Anti-seizure medications
  •     Botox Injections
  •     Occipital Nerve Blocks
  •     Occipital Radiofrequency Ablation
  •     Supraorbital Nerve Blocks
  •     Sphenopalatine Nerve Blocks
  •     Chiropractic Therapy

Other types of headaches

Other headaches are those caused by Sinus and migraines. These can prevent a person from performing simple activities as they can result in a lot of pain. In a sinus headache, there is also facial pain in front of the head as a result of inflamed sinus areas after a cold or infection.

When to see a doctor for headache pain?

Any headaches should be taken very seriously as it could point to a more serious underlying problem. In case you find you exhibit any of these symptoms, please get immediate medical attention:

  • The headache is explosive in nature and is accompanied by vomiting, nausea or a fever.
  • The headache interferes with daily activities and does not go away even after resting.
  • The headache worsens over a 24 hour time period.
  • The headache is brought on following a head injury, such as a blow to the head.
  • You have a disease, such as cancer, that is accompanied by chronic head pain.
  • The head pain is severe causing redness in one eye or pain behind one eye.
  • The head pain is accompanied with slurred speech, blurred vision, confusion, memory loss or a combination of all.

Are there diagnostic tests for headaches?

A doctor will want to check your full medical records to determine why you are suffering from the headache but can also perform a series of tests to see if there are any more serious reasons for the pain. These tests are useful to check if the person is suffering from infections or diseases:

  • Head CT scan
  • Head MRI
  • Blood tests
  • Lumbar puncture to rule out infection
  • X-rays of the sinus cavity

What to expect at the doctor’s office?

You should always carry your complete medical records with you on a visit to the pain doctor. Incase you have noted that certain events tend to trigger a headache over other events, you can let the doctor know.

Once the doctor has scanned through your medical history they will examine you physically to detect if there is any abnormality in the head, nose, eyes, throat, neck, ears, and even full nervous system.

In case you have never done so, keep a pain log in which you record triggers for your pain. Over time, all of these clues can add up and help identify why the pain is being caused. The doctor may also require you to answer a series of your questions to figure out what the problem could be.

Other tests can be conducted such as those mentioned above to determine if there is any other disease or infection that may be causing the pain.