Headaches are one of the most common health complaints in the UK. Most of them are not serious and can be easily treated by changes in lifestyle and over-the-counter medications.
In some cases, headaches can be a more serious symptom of an underlying. So it's a good idea to see your GP if your headaches aren't relieved by over-the-counter treatments, or if they're so painful or frequent that they affect your daily activities or are causing you to miss work.
The most common symptom of headache is a pressure or pain around the temples of head. The duration will depend on the exact cause. Other symptoms include:
- a more intense throbbing pain, usually around one side of the headache only
- recurrent episodes of stabbing "ice pick pain"
- a throbbing, pulsatile pain which starts during or after exercising
- nausea and/or vomiting
- light sensitivity or visual disturbance
- redness and watering of one, or both eyes
- very rarely, weakness, slurred speech, confusion, memory loss, and drowsiness.
There are more than two hundred types of headaches, and most of them are harmless. Below are some of the most common types.
- Tension Headache ( a constant ache that can affect the whole head, most often in the front and sides. The pain is not usually intense, and can last up to several days. It has been linked to stress, lack of sleep and dehydration)
- Cluster Headache (short lived bursts of intense pain behind one eye, usually with redness and watering of that eye)
- Migrane Headache (a severe, throbbing pain at the front or side of the head. Some people also have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound. The pain can be incapacitating.)
- Hormonal Headache (headaches in women are often caused by hormones, and many women notice a link with their periods. The combined contraceptive pill, the menopause and pregnancy are also potential triggers.
- Medication Induced Headache (this is where headaches are a side effect of medication overuse, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen)
- Other common causes include head injury, sinus congestion, dental/ear pain,
Most headaches, especially tension headaches, will disappear on their own without any treatment. If treatment is needed, it is usually a combination of lifestyle changes and pain relief.
- Tension Headaches (simple pain relief such as paracetamol is usually sufficient. Keeping well hydrated and lowering stress levels will help significantly)
- Cluster Headaches (usually a Triptan mediation high flow oxygen)
- Migrane Headaches (treatment can be abortive or preventative, and to an extent can be improved by lifestyle measures. Possible therapies include beta blockers, antidepressants, anticonvulsants and NSAIDs)
- Hormone Headaches (regular exercise and hydration can help. Sometimes coming off the combined contraceptive pill can also relieve symptoms)
- Medication Induced Headaches (complete withdrawal of all analgesic medications is usually the treatment)