According to the National Headache Foundation, over 45 million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches and of these, 28 million suffer from migraines. About 20% of children and adolescents also experience significant headaches.
There are several types of headaches; in fact, 150 diagnostic headache categories have been established.
The most common types of headaches are:
Tension headaches: Also called chronic daily headaches or chronic non-progressive headaches, tension headaches are the most common type of headaches among adults and adolescents. These muscle contraction headaches cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over a prolonged period of time.
Migraines: The exact causes of migraines are unknown. A popular theory is that various triggers cause abnormal brain activity, which in turn causes changes in the blood vessels in the brain. This is called the neurovascular theory. Genetics plays a role in migraines and there are some forms of migraines that are associated with inherited abnormalities in certain parts of the brain. Migraine pain is moderate to severe, often described as pounding, throbbing pain. Migraine headaches can last from four hours to three days and usually occur one to four times per month. Migraines are associated with symptoms such as sensitivity to light, noise, or odors; nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite; and stomach upset or abdominal pain. When a child is having a migraine, he or she often looks pale, feels dizzy, and has blurred vision, fever, and stomach upset, along with the symptoms listed above.
A small percentage of children’s migraines include recurrent (cyclic) gastrointestinal symptoms, vomiting being the most common. Cyclic vomiting means that the symptoms occur on a regular basis — about once a month. These types of migraines are sometimes called abdominal migraines.
Mixed headache syndrome: Also called transformed migraines, mixed headache syndrome is a combination of migraine and tension headaches. Both adults and children experience this type of headache.
Cluster headaches: The least common — although the most severe — type of primary headache, the pain of a cluster headache is intense and may be described as having a burning or piercing quality that is throbbing or constant. The pain is so severe that most cluster headache sufferers cannot sit still and will often pace during an attack. The pain is located behind one eye or in the eye region, without changing sides. The term “cluster headache” refers to headaches that have a characteristic grouping of attacks.
Cluster headaches occur one to three times per day during a cluster period, which may last two weeks to three months. The headaches may disappear completely (go into “remission”) for months or years, only to recur.
Sinus headaches: Sinus headaches are associated with a deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead, or bridge of the nose. The pain usually intensifies with sudden head movement or straining and usually occurs with other sinus symptoms, such as nasal discharge, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and facial swelling.
Coping With Migraines and Headaches
Anyone who has ever had a migraine or a headache that just won’t go away can attest to how debilitating they can be. The excruciating pain can make functioning impossible. But, there are coping techniques that can make living with headaches manageable. You can find relief in medications, alternative treatments, and by learning ways to reduce stress and relax.
Here are some ways to keep migraines and headaches at bay.
- Follow your headache treatment plan. Avoid taking medications that have not been ordered by your doctor.
- Reduce emotional stress. Take time to relax and take time away from stressful situations. Learn relaxation skills, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
- Reduce physical stress. Proper rest and sleep will allow you to deeply relax so you can face the stressors of the new day. When sitting for prolonged periods, get up and stretch periodically. Relax your jaw, neck, and shoulders.
- Exercise regularly. Get at least 20 minutes of exercise three times a week.
- Keep a regular routine. Eat meals and snacks at about the same times every day, and get enough sleep at night.
- Quit smoking. Smoking can trigger headaches and make any headache, especially cluster headaches, worse. Ask your doctor for information about smoking cessation programs in your community.
- Know your headache triggers. Keep a headache diary to keep track of what triggers your headaches and avoid these triggers in the future.
- Preventive therapy. Women who often get headaches around their menstrual period can take preventive therapy when they know their period is coming.
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