Types of Headaches
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and are what we think of as normal, "everyday" headaches. They feel like a constant ache that affects both sides of the head, as though a tight band is stretched around it.
A tension headache normally won't be severe enough to prevent you doing everyday activities. They usually last for 30 minutes to several hours, but can last for several days. The exact cause is unclear, but tension headaches have been linked to things such as stress, poor posture, skipping meals and dehydration.
Tension headaches can usually be treated with ordinary painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen. Lifestyle changes, such as getting regular sleep, reducing stress and staying well hydrated, may also help.
Migraines are less common than tension headaches.
An estimated 14% of the world's population have suffered from migraine at some point in their life. Studies consistently show that women are more likely than men to experience migraine.
Prevalence of migraine
In a 2010/2011 study conducted by Stats Canada, over 2.7 million people in Canada over the age of 15 reported being diagnosed with migraine headaches. Migraine headaches affect more of the population than any other neurological conditions. This likely underestimates migraine prevalence. Research indicates that some people who experience migraine do not seek professional help, and therefore, would not have a diagnosis to report.
Migraine sufferers typically report severe, throbbing pain usually at the front or side of the head. Some people also report other symptoms, such as nausea, increased sensitivity to light or sound, vomiting.
Migraines are usually more severe than tension headaches and may stop you carrying out your normal daily activities. They typically last at least a couple of hours, and some people find they need to stay in bed in a dark room until it subsides.
Most people can treat their migraines successfully with over-the-counter medication. But if they're severe, you may need stronger medication that's only available on prescription. This may be able to relieve and prevent your migraines.
Cluster headaches are a rare type of headache that occur in clusters for a month or two at a time around the same time of year.
They're excruciatingly painful, causing intense pain around one eye, and often occur with other symptoms, such as a watering or red eye and a blocked or runny nose.
Pharmacy medications don't ease the symptoms of a cluster headache, but a doctor can prescribe specific treatments to ease the pain and help prevent further attacks.
Medication and painkiller headaches
Some headaches are a side effect of taking a particular medication. Frequent headaches can also be caused by taking too many painkillers. This is known as a painkiller or medication-overuse headache.
A medication-overuse headache will usually get better within a few weeks once you stop taking the painkillers that are causing it, although your pain may get worse for a few days before it starts to improve.
Headaches in women are often caused by hormones, and many women notice a link with their periods. The combined contraceptive pill, the menopause and pregnancy are also potential triggers.
Reducing your stress levels, having a regular sleeping pattern (see Sleep Hygiene), maintain good hydration and ensuring you don't miss meals may help reduce headaches associated with your menstrual cycle.
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