Headache guide: Understand the 8 different types
Learn what might be causing your head pain — and the most effective way to treat it.
Sun, Sep 19 2010 at 1:01 PM
According to the latest data, as many as 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches. They’re a pain, quite literally, and finding the right treatment can be tricky. Here, we’ve tapped the experts to get the latest on the most common types of headaches and their remedies.
1. Oral-induced headaches
The epicenter of one of the most common types of headaches isn’t your head, but rather your mouth or jaw, and while these headaches can be felt all day, sufferers say they’re most intense in the morning after a night of teeth-grinding, or during stressful periods during the day when most are unaware that they’re clenching their teeth. How to get help? “Most patients do not realize that they can see a dentist with special occlusion training to treat headaches,” says Colleen Olitsky, a cosmetic dentist practicing in New York and Florida. “A person's bite, or occlusion— the way the teeth come together — can cause head and neck aches.” Treatment may include wearing a specially fitted night guard, braces, veneers — or even getting Botox.
2. Migraine headaches
According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 29 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches. Not only are they painful and debilitating, they’re also associated with nausea, vomiting, vision problems and sensitivities to light and sound. While little is known about the exact cause of migraine headaches, experts like Dr. Alexander Mauskop, a neurologist with the New York Headache Center in Manhattan, do their best to offer patients a variety of treatment options such as acupuncture, relaxation techniques (slow breathing, visualization, yoga and meditation), vitamin B12 and magnesium supplements, prescription triptan medications, as well as Excedrin Migraine and Botox injections. Bottom line: While there are many treatment options to pursue, you’ll want to talk to your doctor about what may be best for you.
3. Drug rebound or Medication Overuse Headaches
You take medicine to zap your headache pain, not to make it worse. But experts are warning about a new kind of headache that is becoming increasingly more common, especially among severe headache sufferers. They’re called Medication Overuse Headaches (MOH) — also referred to as “rebound headaches” — and involve a vicious cycle of pain. If you take medication for headaches and the medication is followed by more headaches, which are often described as “tension headaches,” you may be dealing with MOH. “Taking aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen daily can cause more frequent headaches,” says Mauskop. If you believe you’re suffering from these types of headaches, seek out a health care provider who specializes in this area, which is still new to many doctors. Treatment methods vary depending on the patient and the severity of the headaches.
4. Sinus headaches
Whether caused by a nasty sinus infection or seasonal allergies, sinus headaches are most often felt as deep and nagging pain in the forehead, cheekbones or bridge of the nose. While this may sound like any garden-variety headache, sinus headaches usually intensify with sudden head movement (like bending down to pick something up off the ground), when mucus and pressure shift in your sinus cavities. Mauskop prescribes decongestants or antihistamines to combat the symptoms of sinus headaches, but you’ll want to speak to your doctor about a course of antibiotics, which may be needed to combat any presence of infection.
5. Sleep-related headaches
Staying up too late can have more consequences than a case of the yawns the next day. Lack of sleep can cause intense headaches, says Mauskop. The best way to deal with your pounding head after a night of little sleep? Acetaminophen or ibuprofen will give you some relief, but so will changing your habits. “Try to keep the same sleep schedule on the weekends as you do during the week,” suggests Mauskop. Also, aim to get at least six hours of sleep a night whenever possible. A 2005 study found that people who got fewer than six hours of sleep a night reported more severe headaches than those who got a few hours more.
6. Cluster headaches
Known as one of the most painful types of headaches, cluster headaches are rare, and sufferers say they come in waves or “clusters.” Headaches may be intermittent for weeks, even months, and are usually followed by a “remission” period that can last months or longer. The most common cause for these doozies is low magnesium, says Mauskop. “Magnesium infusion may work in part by opening the constricted blood vessels that cause the headaches,” he explains. Treatment options may also include oxygen therapy, local anesthetics and other drugs.
7. Stress-related headaches
Your unreasonable boss, your children’s health, the neighbor’s barking dog — whatever your source of stress, it could be giving you a serious headache, say experts. Of course, you can pop a pill to alleviate the symptoms, but consider taking steps to end these headaches entirely. “Look carefully at the time when your headaches started,” suggests Dr. Howard Schubiner, a headache and pain expert practicing at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich., and the author of "Unlearn Your Pain". “It is likely that there was some key issue that was bothering you at that time, some situation that was troubling or a situation in which you felt trapped and which you couldn't resolve. If you find a pattern, think about what stresses are occurring on those days or at those times.”
8. Tension headaches
Headache experts estimate that so-called “tension headaches” are the most common type of headache reported by adults. Causes, says Mauskop, may include fatigue, hunger, exposure to caustic fumes — even your coworker’s cologne. Treatment for tension headaches may include acetaminophen or ibuprofen — or a combination of the two. For chronic tension headache sufferers, doctors may also prescribe antidepressants, either tricyclic or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), as a way to combat the pain.
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