Dr Anne MacGregor describes common causes of headaches, the differences between a normal headache and more severe forms such as a migraine, and treatment options.

Find information about migraines

Transcript of Headaches

Most people will experience a headache at some point in their lives

and usually the cause is very, very obvious.

So it may be that they've missed a meal or they haven't had enough sleep

or they're dehydrated from lack of fluid.

And if they then just resolve those issues,

eat something, drink something, get some sleep,

the headache will go away.

There are really three main categories of headaches.

The first is really the normal headaches

that everybody will get at some point

and they don't really need to seek any medical attention.

The second category would be want we call primary headaches

where the headache itself is the main problem.

And that includes particularly things like migraine and cluster headache

and perhaps what we sometimes call tension-type headache

if it's becoming too frequent.

The third category we see are the secondary headaches.

That's when somebody is getting a headache

as a symptom of another medical problem that itself needs treating.

So, examples of that would be sinusitis,

where you might get a headache but you treat the sinusitis.

A tension-type headache is really the more severe end of a normal headache.

So, even when we're talking about normal headaches,

most of those are tension-type headaches.

So if you're getting muscle tension, for example,

that would be an example of a tension-type headache.

But when they become very frequent

and perhaps if people are getting them more days than not,

that might be a headache that requires medical treatment.

A migraine you can simply describe as a sick headache,

in an otherwise fit, healthy person.

So the person will experience

attacks of headache, nausea and sometimes actually being sick as well,

light bothering them, and often being disabled,

so even if they don't have to actually go to bed,

they can't carry out their usual daily activities.

And these attacks can last for part of the day up to three days

with complete freedom from symptoms between those attacks.

A true cluster headache is far more likely to affect a man,

probably in his 30s or 40s,

who may smoke or have a history of smoking,

and these will be very, very severe attacks of sudden-onset headache

that is so severe that that individual paces around the room,

bangs their head against the wall

and really doesn't know what to do with themselves.

They will often wake them from their sleep about two hours after going to bed

and they will occur in clusters, each attack lasting about two hours

but maybe that cluster going on for about six to eight weeks.

Hormonal headaches are, as their name describes,

they fluctuate in their frequency or severity,

depending on the stage that a woman is, either in her hormone cycle

or by the hormonal contraception that she may be using

or by the stage that she's going through, the menopause.

One of the best ways to identify what may be triggers for headaches

is to actually keep a diary.

So if people start keeping a record of when their headache symptoms occur,

what day of the week it might be, what time of day it starts,

then they can start to pick up patterns of what triggers might be.

It's important to be aware

that if you are at all concerned about your headaches,

it is worth while going to see a pharmacist or your doctor

to find out what type of headache you've got.

Once you know what type of headache you've got,

there are a whole host of different options of treatment.

Many of those will include lifestyle treatments

and treatments that you can get from the pharmacy.

So it's important to realise that for many headaches

you don't need to go and see your doctor.


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