Can you remember the last time you had a headache?

Headaches are one of the most common health problems we deal with as human beings. In fact, about 10 million visits made to healthcare providers present with headache pain as a major complaint. The causes of a headache can range from stress, to eye strain, to muscular strains in the neck and shoulders, to unbalanced blood flow throughout the brain; often a simple over-the-counter medication and some rest will ease our cranial throbbing.

While everyone deals with an occasional headache, for some the pain they experience in their head muscles escalates from an occasional issue to a chronic medical concern. Over 45 million Americans (about one in six) suffer chronic headaches each year, according to the American Council for Headache Education - and in at least half of these cases the headaches have reached disabling levels.

So how can you tell when your headache is more than an average headache? Keep reading to find out!

How many kinds of headaches are there?

According to the National Headache Foundation, there are two kinds of headaches: primary/benign and secondary. All headaches fall into one of these categories depending on their causes and symptoms.

What sorts of headaches qualify as primary?

There are three main causes for primary headaches:

  • Migraines: Often located in one specific part of the head, these headaches result from reduced bloodflow to the brain and are well known for their accompanying symptoms. Migraine headaches often cause light sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting.

  • Tension: The result of stress or muscular strains in the head or neck, tension headaches cause a recognizable steady but dull ache throughout the head; occasionally these headaches result in throbbing instead of dull aches. Eye strain from poor vision or from staring at a computer screen all day can cause frequent tension headaches.

  • Cluster: Repeated headaches within the span of a week, several weeks, or even several months are called cluster headaches. Usually these headaches affect one side of the head and may center around the eyes of the person experiencing them.

What sorts of headaches qualify as secondary?

Secondary headaches are the result of a physical ailment in the body; causes can include infections, fever, head injury, hypoglycemia, tumors, dental conditions or increased pressure in the skull and/or sinuses.

When should I call my doctor about a headache?

If you experience anything out of the ordinary that differs from your normal headaches, such as a change in the amount of pain you experience or the type of headache you develop, schedule an appointment with your doctor. We also recommend visiting the doctor if you:

  • Have three or more headaches a week

  • Are experiencing persistent headaches that don’t fade away

  • Are taking pain medications every day or every other day to deal with headaches

  • Experience a headache after simple daily activities or movements, as well as after strenuous exercise

Be sure to speak up during your doctor’s visits about any concerns you may have about your headaches!

Should I ever seek emergency care for my headache?

Yes. Situations in which you should seek emergency care for your headache include:

  • When your headaches seem out of the ordinary, i.e. more severe or different than usual

  • When you experience neurological symptoms along with your headache (including weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance or falling, numbness or tingling, paralysis, speech difficulties, mental confusion, and vision changes)

  • When your headache is accompanied by a fever, shortness of breath, stiff neck, or rash

  • When your headache interferes with other parts of daily life – this includes if it prevents you from sleeping or keeps you in the house due to nausea or vomiting.

Do you have any questions about your own health? Do you have a headache that’s concerning you? Feel free to give our offices a call to schedule an appointment!