Headaches are common, but they’re also a pain. For many people, the occasional headache is more a nuisance than anything. But for some, chronic headaches and migraines can have a significant impact on quality of life.
Types and causes
While there are literally hundreds of types of headaches, the two most common are tension headaches and migraines.
Tension (or stress) headaches are the most common headaches and occur in about 75 percent of adults. They can be mild to moderate and occur infrequently. Most last 20 minutes to 2 hours. Tension headaches can be triggered by fatigue, stress or problems involving the muscles or joints of the neck or jaw.
A migraine headache is the second most common headache. It causes intense pain and is often accompanied with additional symptoms. Migraines can be moderate or severe and last for a few hours to a few days.
While doctors don’t have a clear understanding of what causes migraines, genetics and gender play a significant role. Most individuals who suffer from migraines have a family history, and 75 percent are women.
Migraine triggers include hormonal changes, sleep disruption, certain medications and foods, weather changes and stress.
Symptoms of a headache
Signs and symptoms of a tension headache include:
- Band-like pressure or pain on both sides of the head
- Aching pain spreading to or from the neck
- Tenderness on scalp, neck and shoulder muscles
- Feeling of tightness
Symptoms of a migraine
Signs and symptoms of a migraine include:
- Throbbing or pounding pain
- Pain on one side of the head (may switch sides)
- Pain that worsens with movement
- Sensitivity to light, noise and smells
When a child has a migraine, they may look pale, feel dizzy, and have blurry vision, fever and an upset stomach.
Treatment and prevention
Headaches and migraines can often be managed at home with medications and treatments:
- Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- Prescription medications to relieve pain or prevent migraines or severe headaches.
- Rest in a dark, quiet room. Bright lights and noise can make headaches worse.
- Cold compresses to the head or neck.
- Caffeine. Tea, coffee or something with a little caffeine in it could ease headache pain. But go easy. Caffeine withdrawal can also cause headaches.
Certain lifestyle adjustments can reduce the risk of headaches and migraines and ease the pain when they do occur:
- Exercise. Regular exercise can release endorphins that fight pain and prevent headaches from happening.
- Get plenty of sleep. A regular sleep routine helps keep your immune system strong, wards off depression and anxiety, and promotes deep relaxation.
- Eat a balanced diet. A healthy diet of fresh foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins can prevent headaches.
- Reduce stress. Knowing how to handle stress—and how to prevent it—can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of headaches.
- Avoid triggers. Certain foods, medications, and tobacco alcohol use can trigger headaches, and increase pain and other symptoms.
Should I go to Indigo?
MultiCare Indigo Urgent Care can treat your mild to moderate headache, including migraines. A medical provider will help determine the cause of your headache and discuss treatment options to ease the pain. And if needed, we’ll refer you to a higher level of care.
If you are experiencing any severe symptoms, it’s best to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.
- Abrupt, severe headache
- Headache with a fever, severe stiff neck, mental confusion, seizures, blurred vision, weakness, numbness or speaking difficulties
- Headache after a head injury, especially if the headache gets worse
Find an Indigo Urgent Care location near you.