A headache is pain or discomfort in the head or face. Headaches vary greatly in terms of the location and intensity of the pain, and how often the headaches occur. The brain tissue doesn’t have pain-sensitive nerve fibers and doesn’t feel pain. But, other parts of the head can be responsible for a headache including:
Different types of headaches include:
In this type of headache, symptoms other than pain occur as part of the headache. Nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, sensitivity to light (photophobia), and other visual symptoms typically occur with migraines. Migraines also have distinct phases. Not all people have each phase, however. The phases of a migraine headache may include:
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Stress and tight muscles are often factors in tension-type headaches. These are common symptoms of a tension-type headache:
Cluster headaches usually occur in a series that may last weeks or months.
These are the most common symptoms of a cluster headache:
Headaches are classified as primary or secondary.
Headache symptoms depend on the type of headache. The frequency of headaches and the intensity of the symptoms may vary, too. Typical headache symptoms include:
Tension type headaches typically do not cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light (photophobia).
The symptoms of a headache may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your doctor will want to do a comprehensive medical evaluation and diagnostic testing. He or she will also ask about your medical history, and do physical exam and certain tests.
Questions commonly asked during the exam may include:
If your doctor suspects migraine or tension-type headaches and the neurological exam is normal, no further testing may be needed. However, if it is not a primary type headache, then other tests may be done to find the cause.
Tests used to find the cause of a headache may include:
Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment based on:
The goal of treatment is to stop headaches from occurring. Effective headache management depends on finding what type of headache you have and may include:
Migraine and cluster headaches may need specific medicine management including:
Some headaches may need immediate medical attention including hospitalization for observation, diagnostic testing, or even surgery. Treatment is individualized depending on the underlying condition causing the headache. Full recovery depends on the type of headache and other medical problems that may be present.
When headache triggers are known, avoiding the triggers can prevent a headache. Reducing stress can minimize or prevent headaches caused by stress. Migraine and cluster headaches may be prevented by taking a daily preventive medicines.
Most headaches can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, call your healthcare provider right away if a severe headache is accompanied by:
Symptoms that may suggest a more serious headache include:
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
The University of Chicago Medicine
5841 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637 | 773-702-1000
Appointments: Call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200