A ubiquitous word that is uttered by almost the entire population on the globe, irrespective of the age group, is the headache. More than half the world’s population suffer from this condition, of which, According to Harvard health publishing (Harvard medical school, April 15,2020) Migraine is a type of headache that accounts for nearly 30% of it. It is the sixth in the YLD index (years lost in disability).
So what is this fuss all about the headache?
It is a condition that has no single cause and occurs due to various reasons. It ranges from neurotic pain to pain signalled due to increased pressure in the blood vessels to a much-used word in the society – Stress.
Some of the worrisome headaches include an ache after a head injury/trauma, constant throbbing/splitting headaches, one-sided headaches and headaches associated with dizziness or palpitations.
There are innumerable types of headaches
- Tension headaches
- Headaches due to high blood pressure
- Cluster headaches and rarely
- Medications induced headaches.
The secondary headaches are due to Dehydration, Hangovers, Concussion, Tumors, Stroke, Brain aneurysm, Spinal anaesthesia, ice cream headaches, glaucoma and wearing spectacles (any change in power), thunderclap headaches and much recently associated with COVID -19, etc.
Types of headaches
1. Tension headache: It is the most common one which causes a dull ache on the front side of the head bilaterally. It lasts from 20 minutes to a maximum of 2 hours. It is triggered by emotional stress mainly, and sometimes it is associated with a problem in the neck joint or muscle problems. It occasionally occurs or at times frequently too. One can help themselves by avoiding triggers. Meditation and yoga can be practised to mellow it down. A physician’s consultation is necessary before resorting to any medications.
2. Migraine: It is a common disability in young adults and occurs as a one-sided headache lasting for more than 72 hours.
- Symptoms – photo-phobia, nausea, vomiting and sometimes even loss of consciousness.
- Triggers – dehydration, stress, eating chocolates, ice creams, cheese, being under the sun for a long time, lack of sleep, improper diet.
- Management – reduce the frequency and intensity by avoiding the triggers – drink a lot of water (as needed), eat a proper diet on time (avoid or limit oily and spicy meals), take care while being under the sun (use an umbrella/sunglasses) get proper sleep and limit using gadgets (low screen time). Prophylactic treatment is available to treat migraine, and therefore one can consult a physician or an ENT specialist for further guidance.
3. Headache due to high blood pressure: Hypertension is often experienced by many in the working-age group. Headache in such people (though not specific or intense) should not be ignored as it may lead to a stroke or a heart attack. Other symptoms include – palpitations, increased sweating, shortness of breath or even nosebleeds. So, it is advisable to take a routine blood pressure check-up and follow up with your doctor for appropriate medications according to one’s age and needs.
4. Cluster headache: This is an uncommon but very severe headache that tends to occur in clusters ranging up to 7-8 per day in 2-3 months period in a year or two. The attack starts abruptly and may affect the eyes and nose, causing watering and blockage.
5. Thunderclap headache: As the name suggests, it is the most severe form of headache where the pain peaks within 60 seconds, uncommon but still life-threatening. This is caused due to bleeding in the brain (subarachnoid haemorrhage). Other causes are cerebrospinal fluid leakage, blood clots in the brain, hypertensive crisis, meningitis or encephalitis. One should quickly seek emergency medical attention.
Mostly headaches and their types can be diagnosed with a good history. Physical examinations and investigations such as MRI, CT scan and EEG may give additional confirmations. In most types, these tests tend to be normal. Thunderclap headaches may additionally require lumbar taping.
In our race against time, a headache is definitely considered a disability by all. So, with correct preventive measures and prophylactic treatment, one can be sure to win over the situation. But, one should be careful while using medications as its overuse may produce a new headache (medications induced headache) which becomes a vicious cycle.
So, let’s recognise our headaches as they take us by surprise, analyse them on time and treat them before they worsen by swiftly approaching a doctor to get the best medical care at the right time.