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Chronic DiseaseGeneral Wellbeing

Headaches and Migraines – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Headaches are a very common condition, experienced by nearly everybody. However, the severity and frequency of headache and migraines vary widely. Not everybody has a correct diagnosis for what they are experiencing – in fact, up to 50% of migraine sufferers may be undiagnosed. Knowing more about the kind of headaches you suffer from can help you to manage them.

What are headaches?

Headaches are pains in the head that normally come with sensations of pressure and/or aching. They normally occur on both sides of the head simultaneously, and the pain is most often felt in the forehead, temple or the back of the neck. Tension headaches are the most common type, but there are many other varieties of headache. They can last from a few minutes to a week, from mild to extremely severe. Headaches can be a symptom of a larger problem but are most often just painful rather than dangerous.

What are migraines?

Migraines are severe headaches that have other symptoms associated.  Some common symptoms that migraine sufferers have in addition to pain are nausea, vomiting, light (or sound) sensitivity, pain behind one eye or one side of the temples, seeing an “aura” which is usually flashing lights or spots, and a wide range of less common symptoms. Pulsing and throbbing sensations are usually associated with migraine. Migraines can be diagnosed from childhood, but are most commonly diagnosed between age 20 – 40.

What causes headaches and migraines?

Headaches symptoms tend to run in families, particularly migraines. When both parents suffer from migraines, there is a 70% chance their children will too. One parent with migraines makes the risk drop to around 50%.  There are many possible triggers, which are different for everyone and aren’t always even the same for one person. It can also take a combination of factors to trigger a headache or migraine, which makes it even more difficult to identify.  Some common triggers for headaches include sickness, stress, and environmental factors such as chemicals, weather changes and lighting. Migraine triggers can be stress, foods and additives, caffeine, changes in hormones or sleep patterns, or skipping meals.

What are my treatment options?

Most migraines respond to treatments available over the counter from the pharmacy, but others need regular preventative medication. Most headaches respond well to aspirin, ibuprofen or paracetamol. There are also alternative therapies that are said to help, such as relaxation, acupuncture and heat therapies. Most types of headaches will occur less frequently with reduced stress, and eliminating common dietary triggers like caffeine and alcohol.

As there are so many types of headache and as headaches affect each person differently, it is important that you consult your doctor, especially when starting a treatment plan. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing frequent or severe headaches and work out a management plan that is right for you.

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