Everyone gets headaches, but not everyone gets the same kind. Some headaches are mild annoyances that go away with over-the-counter pain relievers and rest. Others, like migraines, can shut down a person's life during an attack. About 20 million Americans see a doctor each year for headaches. Tension, migraine and cluster are types of headaches.
The most common is a tension headache, usually from stress, which feels like a tight band around your head. Tension headaches usually go away with rest and over-the-counter medications. Migraine and cluster headaches are types of vascular headaches. Physical exertion increases the headache pain in vascular headaches. The blood vessels in the tissue surrounding the head dilate or swell, causing your head to throb with pain. Cluster headaches are much less common than migraines, the most common type of vascular headache.
Cluster headaches
Cluster headaches usually strike several times in rapid succession - lasting weeks or months. Cluster headaches are more common among men and can be extremely painful.
Migraine headache
Migraine headaches are different because they involve other parts of the body in addition to the brain. Affecting 28 million Americans, they usually cause severe pain on one or both sides of the head and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, light sensitivity, distorted vision and dizziness. A rebound headache is common in migraine patients, but it can also happen if you take pain relievers more than two or three times a week. Many people who think they are having sinus headaches may be actually suffering from migraines. A sinus headache usually means constant pain and tenderness over the affected sinus. It is characterized by a deep, dull ache made worse by head movements or straining.
Most headaches are not caused by serious conditions and usually can be treated with over-the-counter medicines. Migraines and other types of serious head pain may need prescription treatments and monitoring by a doctor.
Headache treatment is divided into two forms: abortive and prophylactic. Abortive treatment addresses a headache in progress, and prophylactic treatment prevents headache occurrence. Tension-type headaches can be treated with aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. In early 1998, the FDA approved extra-strength Excedrin, which includes caffeine, for mild migraines. Physicians continue to investigate and monitor the best treatment for migraines and generally prefer a stepped approach, depending on headache severity, frequency and impact on the patient's quality of life. A group of drugs called triptans are usually preferred for abortive treatment. About seven triptans are available in the United States and the pill forms are considered most effective. They should be taken as early as possible during the typical migraine attack. The most common prophylactic therapies include antidepressants, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and antiseizure medications. Antiseizure medications have proven particularly effective at blocking the actions of neurotransmitters that start migraine attacks. Topiramate (Topamax) was shown effective in several combined clinical trials in 2004 at 50 to 200 mg per day. In 2004, a new, large study added evidence to show the effectiveness of botulinum toxin type A (Botox) treatment to prevent headache pain for those with frequent, untreatable tension and migraine headaches. Patients were treated every three months, with two to five injections each time. They typically received relief within two to three weeks. Cluster headaches may also be treated with ergotamine and sumatriptan, as well as by inhaling pure oxygen. Prophylactic treatments include prednisone, calcium channel blockers, and methysergide.
Alternative treatment
  • acupuncture or acupressure
  • homeopathic remedies chosen specifically for the individual and his/her type of headache
  • regular physical exercise
  • hydrotherapy
  • transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) (A procedure that electrically stimulates nerves and blocks the signals of pain transmission.)

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