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Headache

Brain
Headache

Definition

A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck. Serious causes of headaches are rare. Most people with headaches can feel much better by making lifestyle changes, learning ways to relax, and sometimes by taking medicines.

Alternative Names

Pain - head; Rebound headaches; Medication overuse headaches; Medicine overuse headaches

Causes

The most common type of headache is tension headache. It is likely caused by tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp, and jaw. A tension headache:

A migraine headache involves severe pain. It usually occurs with other symptoms, such as vision changes, sensitivity to sound or light, or nausea. With a migraine:

Rebound headaches are headaches that keep coming back. They often occur from overuse of pain medicines. For this reason, these headaches are also called medicine overuse headaches. People who take pain medicine more than 3 days a week on a regular basis can develop this type of headache.

Other types of headaches:

In rare cases, a headache can be a sign of something more serious, such as:

Home Care

There are things you can do to manage headaches at home, especially migraines or tension headaches. Try to treat the symptoms right away.

When migraine symptoms begin:

A headache diary can help you identify your headache triggers. When you get a headache, write down the following:

Review your diary with your health care provider to identify triggers or a pattern to your headaches. This can help you and your provider create a treatment plan. Knowing your triggers can help you avoid them.

Your provider may have already prescribed medicine to treat your type of headache. If so, take the medicine as instructed.

For tension headaches, try acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Talk to your provider if you are taking pain medicines 3 or more days a week.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Some headaches may be a sign of a more serious illness. Seek medical help right away for any of the following:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your provider will take a medical history and will examine your head, eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, and nervous system.

Your provider will ask many questions to learn about your headaches. Diagnosis is usually based on your history of symptoms.

Tests may include:

References

Digre KB. Headaches and other head pain. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 398.

Garza I, Schwedt TJ, Robertson CE, Smith JH. Headache and other craniofacial pain. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 103.

Hoffman J, May A. Diagnosis, pathophysiology, and management of cluster headache. Lancet Neurol. 2018;17(1):75-83. PMID: 29174963 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29174963.

Jensen RH. Tension-type headache - the normal and most prevalent headache. Headache. 2018;58(2):339-345. PMID: 28295304 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28295304.

Marmura MJ, Silberstein SD, Schwedt TJ. The acute treatment of migraine in adults: the American Headache Society evidence assessment of migraine pharmacotherapies. Headache. 2015;55(1):3-20. PMID: 25600718 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25600718.

Silberstein SD. Headache management. In: Benzon HT, Rathmell JP, Wu CL, Turk DC, Argoff CE, Hurley RW, eds. Practical Management of Pain. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:chap 30.


Review Date: 11/22/2017
Reviewed By: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, FRCS (C), FACS, Department of Surgery at Providence Medical Center, Medford OR; Department of Surgery at Ashland Community Hospital, Ashland OR; Department of Maxillofacial Surgery at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.