Headache is pain in any region of the head. Headaches may occur on one or both sides of the head, be isolated to a certain location, radiate across the head from one point, or have a viselike quality.
A headache may appear as a sharp pain, a throbbing sensation or a dull ache. Headaches can develop gradually or suddenly, and may last from less than an hour to several days.
There are many types and sub-types of headaches. Chronic daily headaches, which occur 15 days or more a month, are one sub-type. Tension-type headaches and migraines are also common sub-types of headaches. They can both be chronic, though they aren’t always.
A migraine is a headache that can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head. It’s often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can last for hours to days, and the pain can be so severe that it interferes with your daily activities.
Doctors don’t fully understand what causes most headaches. They do know that the brain tissue and the skull are never responsible since they don’t have nerves that register pain. But the blood vessels in the head and neck can signal pain, as can the tissues that surround the brain and some major nerves that originate in the brain. The scalp, sinuses, teeth, and muscles and joints of the neck can also cause head pain.
Most occasional tension-type headaches are easily treated with over-the-counter medications, including:
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others)
- Prescription medications can include triptans, such as sumatriptan (Imitrex) and zolmitriptan (Zomig)
Daily prescription medications, including tricyclic antidepressants, might manage chronic tension-type headaches. Alternative therapies aimed at stress reduction might help. They include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Massage therapy
For migraines and other severe headaches, your doctor may recommend botox injections to manage headaches.