Headaches are a common ailment. Unfortunately, because they're so common, they are often dismissed as insignificant. That's a pity, since many new options are available for treatment, including medications and other therapies, lifestyle changes and homeopathic remedies.
There are many types of headache. Some examples include sinus headaches (usually associated with sinus infections), cluster headaches (tend to happen in groups, or clusters, with periods of relief between clusters), and tension headaches (the most common, usually characterized by non-specific head pain).
Perhaps the most misunderstood is the migraine. Migraines are severe, pounding headaches associated with nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. A migraine usually begins above the eyes, typically affects one side of the head, and tends to throb intensely, especially when you become more physically active and/or bend over. Some migraines have associated neurologic symptoms, known as aura, which cause disturbances in vision, language, and sensation.
Many patients find it helpful to keep a diary to identify possible headache triggers, such as cheese, red wine or foods with MSG. Too much caffeine or over-the-counter pain treatments might actually increase headache frequency. Eating regular meals and getting plenty of sleep may also help.
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Not all headaches should be regarded as a temporary nuisance. In fact, headache can sometimes be the only symptom of a more serious medical emergency, such as meningitis, stroke, or aneurysm. Learn to "SNOOP" out the cause of a headache to determine whether it requires immediate attention:
Symptoms in addition to headache: Do you have fever, recent weight loss or other risk factors like HIV or cancer? Are you taking medicines that affect the immune system?
Neurologic symptoms: Are you experiencing confusion, decreased alertness, vision changes, dizziness, numbness, or weakness?
Onset: Did your headache arrive suddenly?
Older: New headaches in middle age, especially 50 years or older, can be a troubling sign.
Previous headaches: Is this your first headache? Or is this headache different from your previous headaches (change in frequency, severity or associated symptoms)?
If you answer "yes" to one or more of the above, seek immediate medical attention.
Do not be embarrassed to seek help if you suffer from headaches. A physician who specializes in treatment of headaches can help you manage your pain. If your headache is a symptom of something more serious, the good news is that many of these conditions are treatable, especially if caught early.