Headaches

Headaches are among the most common problems doctors hear about. They can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, or gender.

Enduring a headache can be a painful, exhausting experience, and recurring headaches can have a big impact on your life. The good news is that they’re treatable, usually through a combination of medications and behavioral therapies, like trigger avoidance or lifestyle changes.

The three most common types of headaches are:

  • Tension-type headaches
  • Migraines
  • Cluster headaches

However, several other types of headache disorders exist. Talking to your doctor about your specific headache symptoms and triggers can be an important first step toward effective treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are headaches?

    Many types of headaches exist. Essentially, a headache is defined as pain in your head, face, or upper neck. Headaches are the result of interactions between your brain and the nerves and blood vessels in your head. Experts don’t yet understand the underlying mechanism behind this, but certain nerves that impact blood vessels become activated and start sending pain signals to the brain.

  • Why do we get headaches?

    People get headaches because of a complex mix of genetics, abnormalities in the brain, dysfunctional or overactive pain receptors, environmental triggers, and a neurological state called sensitization. The most common kind of headache, called a tension-type headache, is believed to result from the activation of pain receptors in the muscles and a connective tissue called fascia.

  • How can I relieve a headache?

    The right treatment for a headache depends on the type. Generally, headaches are treated with a combination of:

    • Home remedies (rest, cool compress)
    • Lifestyle changes (more sleep, dietary changes)
    • Over-the-counter drugs (Advil, Tylenol)
    • Prescription drugs (anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, triptans)
    • Other therapies and procedures (physical therapy, Botox)
    • Complementary/alternative medicine (meditation, yoga)
  • How long can a headache last?

    How long a headache lasts depends on its type:

    • A tension-type headache may last anywhere from half an hour to a week
    • Cluster headaches tend to last between 45 and 90 minutes
    • The painful phase of a migraine can last up to about 72 hours
    • Primary exercise headaches usually last less than 24 hours
    • Primary cough headaches typically last for a few seconds or maybe a minute
  • What foods help with headaches?

    An anti-inflammatory diet or low-fat diet may help you avoid headaches. The Mediterranean diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to lower inflammation and even alter your pain perception. It’s also low in omega-6 fatty acids, which have the opposite effect. That makes this diet a popular choice for people with headaches.

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Page Sources
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  3. Nascimento FA, Sória MG, Rizelio V, Kowacs PA. Cerebral venous thrombosis with migraine-like headache and the trigeminovascular system. Case Rep Neurol Med. 2016;2016:2059749. doi:10.1155/2016/2059749

Additional Reading