Headache is a pain in any part of the head, including the scalp, upper neck, face (including the eye area).
A primary headache is caused by problems with or overactivity of pain-sensitive structures in your head. A primary headache isn't a symptom of an underlying disease.
What are the causes and triggers?
The three most common causes of a primary headache are:
- Cluster headache
- Tension-type headache
Some primary headaches can be triggered by lifestyle factors, including:
- Alcohol, particularly red wine
- Certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates
- Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
- Poor posture
- Skipped meals
Doctors focus on determining whether a headache has another cause. They also check for symptoms suggesting that a headache is caused by a serious disorder. If no cause is identified, they focus on identifying which type of a headache is present.
Tips that could help before seeking consultation:
- Try to keep stress in check. Stay organized and prepared to minimize stressful situations. Have some fun, and don't overdo it at work.
- Try incorporating meditation or yoga in your daily regime.
- Apply a heating pad, hot water bottle or warm compress to aching muscles. Or take a hot shower.
- Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel to the neck.
- Practice good posture to ease muscle strain. While standing, keep shoulders back and head level, buttocks and abdomen pulled in. While sitting, keep your head straight and thighs parallel to the floor.
When to seek consultation?
In people with headaches, certain characteristics are cause for concern; these people should immediately seek medical consultation:
- It occurs more frequently than usual
- Are more severe than usual
- Worsen or don't improve with appropriate use of over-the-counter drugs
- Prevent you from working, sleeping or participating in normal activities
- Headaches that cause you distress, and you would like to find treatment options that enable you to control them better
- Tenderness at the temple (as when combing hair) or jaw pain when chewing
- The presence of cancer or a disorder that weakens the immune system
- Use of a drug that suppresses the immune system
- Red eyes and halos seen around lights
- If you are experiencing certain other symptoms like- headaches that increase in frequency or severity, headaches that begin after age 50, worsening vision, weight loss
A headache can be a symptom of a serious condition, such as a stroke, meningitis or encephalitis. Go to a hospital emergency room or your local emergency number if you have the worst headache of your life, a sudden, severe headache or a headache accompanied by:
- Confusion or trouble understanding speech
- Fainting, drowsiness, confusion
- High fever, greater than 102 f to 104 f (39 c to 40 c)
- Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of your body
- Stiff neck
- Trouble seeing, speaking or walking
- Nausea or vomiting (if not clearly related to the flu or a hangover)
If people with none of the above symptoms or characteristics start having headaches that are different from any they have had before or if their usual headaches become unusually severe, they should call their doctor.
Doctors can usually determine the type or cause of headaches based on the medical history, symptoms, and results of a physical examination. Depending on their other symptoms, the doctor may advise taking an analgesic or ask them to come for an evaluation.