We’ve all experienced a headache at least once in our lives – they are a common complaint for many individuals and are triggered by various lifestyle factors including everything from changes to your diet, lack of sleep, overworking, poor posture, stress, and noise. However, not all headaches are alike. In this article we will look at the different types of headaches that can be experienced, how to differentiate between them and their symptoms, and how they can be treated.
Perhaps the most severe form of a headache is one that develops into a migraine. Affecting an estimated 3 million Canadians, with 3 out of 4 sufferers being female as well as 5% of children under the age of 18, a migraine is a headache in which the blood vessels in the brain become constricted and release inflammatory substances, causing extreme discomfort as a result. Migraines can last as long as 72 hours, with some individuals suffering from migraines on a weekly, persistent basis, and they are usually described as pulsating or throbbing pain. Prior to onset of a migraine, one might experience aura – seeing bright lights, lines, or dots. In addition, a migraine is generally accompanied with sensitivity to light, sounds and smells, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and fatigue. In rare cases a fever may also be present. They are also certain triggers that may lead up to a migraine, including the consumption of caffeine, alcohol, hormonal components and changes in one’s sleeping pattern. It is important to recognize these triggers and make applicable changes, as avoiding them may lessen the frequency and severity of your symptoms.
A tension-type headache (TTH), also commonly known as a muscle contraction headache, is the most common kind of headache that one might experience. Tension-type headaches affect 4 out of every 100 Canadians, and are described as a dull, aching pain, a feeling of tightness or pressure around the forehead and back of the head, or tenderness on your shoulder muscles, neck and scalp. While a tension headache can be hard to differentiate from a migraine, they are not usually associated with migraine symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or visual disturbances. Tension headaches are generally developed into two categories: Episodic and Chronic. An episodic tension headache can last as short as 30 minutes to a whole week, but usually occur less than 15 days a month, whereas chronic tension headaches may be continuous and occur more frequently.
The treatment of both migraine and tension headaches is fully dependent on the symptoms experienced by the patient, as well as the history. Pain relievers such as Ibuprofen (Advil) taken as soon as you notice the onset of symptoms may relieve the discomfort of mild headaches; stress management is also beneficial. For those suffering from severe migraines, Dr. Ali Ghahary suggests the use of medications called Cambia or Relpax – drugs that are specifically used in the treatment of migraine headaches.