Migraine and Headaches, What You Should Know: Types, Causes & When to go to the ER
We’ve all experienced a headache sometime in our lifetime. However, severe headaches can be a cause for concern.
Given that June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, we think it’s an excellent time to address this often-overlooked condition.
What Are Headaches?
A headache is a pain or discomfort experienced in the head or face areas. Interestingly, brain tissue cannot feel pain because it doesn’t have pain-sensitive nerve fibers. Therefore, when you have a headache, it’s not your brain that hurts (although it may feel that way) but rather the nerves that extend over your scalp, face, mouth, and throat, the muscles in your head, neck, and shoulders, or the blood vessels located on the surface or base of the brain that signal pain.
Types of Headaches
These are the four most common types of headaches:
Tension headaches are the most common form of headache. They can result from stress, eyestrain, or even hunger.
The pain from a tension headache usually starts at the back of the head and slowly moves forward, affecting both sides.
For some people, tension headaches can be chronic.
Sinus headaches result from swelling in the sinus passages behind the cheeks, eyes, and nose.
A cold, the flu, or allergies can cause congestion and inflammation, leading to a sinus headache. Although the pain can persist throughout the day, it’s often worse early in the morning and when you bend forward.
This type of headache can cause excruciating pain. The name comes from the fact that these headaches occur daily, usually around the same time, lasting anywhere from 15 minutes up to 3 hours. For some people, they can happen several times a day for months.
The pain affects one side of the head and can involve a droopy eyelid, teary eye, or nasal congestion.
Cluster headache attacks result from dilated blood vessels in the brain. Patients experience pain-free periods of one or more months between episodes.
Migraines are a neurological disorder that involves nerve pathways and chemicals capable of causing changes in brain activity and affecting blood vessels in the brain and surrounding area, bringing about a range of symptoms, including sensitivity to light, smells, or sound, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fatigue.
The condition affects over 37 million Americans, including men, women, and children. Sadly, fewer than 5% of migraine sufferers receive appropriate care.
Migraines can last for hours or even days, causing pain so severe that it interferes with your ability to conduct daily activities.
What Causes Migraines?
Migraines are unique in that there is no one cause for them. Instead, there are common triggers that can result in a migraine.
Hormonal shifts – Because of menstrual cycles and hormonal changes, women are 3x more likely to experience migraines than men.
Allergies – Inflammation of the blood vessels is strongly associated with migraines. Because allergies, including allergic rhinitis, cause irritation and inflammation, they are a known trigger for some patients.
Genetics – Researchers discovered a genetic mutation common in migraine sufferers suggesting a genetic trait to the condition.
Environmental Triggers – Certain foods and drinks, as well as smells, weather changes, stress, and a lack of sleep, are all known triggers for migraine.
When To Go to The ER for a Migraine or Headaches
While most headaches respond well to over-the-counter medications, you should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms alongside your severe headache:
- Stiff Neck
- Persistent nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling dizzy or confused
- Muscular weakness
- Convulsion, seizure
- Changes in vision, including double vision
- Loss of consciousness
- Any headache that follows a head trauma
- Severe headache that doesn’t respond to your usual medication