Memorial Regional Health: When common headaches are cause for concern — Headaches are common, but certain types could signal underlying health concerns |

Memorial Regional Health: When common headaches are cause for concern — Headaches are common, but certain types could signal underlying health concerns

Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health
The causes of headaches aren't fully understood — there are more than 300 types of headaches, but only 10 percent have a known cause.
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Headache triggers Write down the characteristics of your headaches, including their frequency, duration, and intensity, as well the circumstances surrounding your headaches, including the following.
  • your medications
  • diet
  • sleep patterns
  • activities
  • alcohol intake
  • menstrual cycle, for women
  • environment
  • stress levels
  • physical problems
See a doctor if you have the following headache symptoms.
  • Sudden, severe headache that may be accompanied by a stiff neck.
  • Severe headache accompanied by fever, nausea, or vomiting that is not related to another illness.
  • "First" or "worst" headache, often accompanied by confusion, weakness, double vision, or loss of consciousness.
  • Headache that worsens over days or weeks or has changed in pattern or behavior.
  • Recurring headache in children.
  • Headache following a head injury.
  • Headache and a loss of sensation or weakness in any part of the body, which could be a sign of a stroke.
  • Headache associated with convulsions.
  • Headache associated with shortness of breath.
  • Two or more headaches a week.
  • Persistent headache in someone who has been previously headache-free, particularly in someone over age 50.
  • New headaches in someone with a history of cancer or HIV/AIDS.
Source: Harvard Medical School; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Editor’s note: The following article is sponsored content from Memorial Regional Health.

Headaches are not created equally, and unfortunately for some, they can be severe and cause interruptions to daily life.

Most people will experience a headache at some point in their lifetime. Nearly two out of three children will have a headache by age 15, and more than 9 in 10 adults will have one at some point in their life, according to the The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“Headache is our most common form of pain and a major reason cited for days missed at work or school, as well as visits to the doctor,” according to the institute. “Without proper treatment, headaches can be severe and interfere with daily activities.”

Pain in any region of the head is considered a headache, according to the Mayo Clinic. Headaches can occur on one or both sides of the head, be isolated to a certain location, radiate across the head from one point, or have a viselike quality.

The causes of headaches aren’t fully understood — there are more than 300 types of headaches, but only 10 percent have a known cause, according to Harvard Medical School. However, there are common triggers, such as alcohol, food additives, hunger, thirst, lack of sleep, or stress, among others.

Primary headaches

A primary headache is a headache that isn’t caused by another medical condition. These can include migraine, cluster, and tension-type headaches.

The Mayo Clinic reports that chemical activity in the brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding the skull, or the muscles of the head and neck can play a role in primary headaches.

“Some people may also carry genes that make them more likely to develop such headaches,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

Lifestyle factors that might trigger these types of headaches include alcohol (particularly red wine); certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates; changes in sleep or lack of sleep; poor posture; skipped meals; and stress.

“It’s uncertain what sets the process of a primary headache in motion,” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “A cascade of events that affect blood vessels and nerves inside and outside the head causes pain signals to be sent to the brain.”

Secondary headaches

While some primary headache patterns — chronic daily headaches or exercise headaches, for example — can signal something more serious, a secondary headache is a symptom of a disease or medical condition. These headaches are caused when pain-sensitive nerve endings are pressed on, pulled, or pushed out of place, according to the neurological institute.

“They may result from underlying conditions, including fever, infection, medication overuse, stress or emotional conflict, high blood pressure, psychiatric disorders, head injury or trauma, stroke, tumors, and nerve disorders (particularly trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain condition that typically affects a major nerve on one side of the jaw or cheek),” according to the institute.

When to see a doctor

Those who suffer from an occasional headache probably don’t have to worry, but there are symptoms that should cause concern, such as sudden, severe headaches or headaches that follow a head injury.

Headaches that are accompanied by confusion, fainting, fever, numbness or weakness, stiff neck, trouble seeing, speaking or walking, or nausea should be checked by a physician, according to the Mayo Clinic.

And if you’re experiencing headaches more often than usual, or if they’re more severe than usual, see a doctor. Memorial Regional Health has more than a dozen primary care providers who serve Craig residents at the MRH Medical Clinic and MRH Rapid Care.


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