Your Headache Guidebook

All headaches are a pain, but not all headaches are caused by the same problem. Learn about the two most common kinds of headaches and what you can do to prevent and treat them.

A Tense Type

Tension headaches are some of the most common forms of headaches — they can happen whenever you’re stressed, anxious, tired or angry, and typically cause soreness in the temples, pressure around the head, or tightness in the head and neck. Stress, poor posture or arthritis can cause tension headaches.

Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or aspirin, can typically effectively treat tension headaches. Relaxation techniques, including exercise, mediation or just taking some “me” time, can also alleviate the stress that triggered the headache. A good night’s sleep may be what you need to help put your pain to rest.

A Major Migraine

According to the American Migraine Foundation, more than 30 million Americans experience migraine headaches, which cause severe, throbbing pain often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and noise. Caused by changes in the size of the arteries around the skull, migraines are often only felt on one side of the head. Migraines can last from four hours to seven days, depending on the severity.

Some migraines cause an aura, or visual symptoms that begin 30 minutes to an hour before the headache appears. An aura may appear as flashing lights, dots and lines (such as when you get lightheaded after standing up too quickly) or blind spots in the vision. Environmental triggers — including caffeine withdrawal, changes in barometric pressure, certain foods or stress — can cause migraines.

When to Call Your Physician

A sudden, intense headache that feels like a thunderclap can be a sign of a stroke. If you or someone you know is experiencing stroke symptoms — including slurred speech, a drooping face, and numb or unresponsive arms — the American Stroke Association recommends you call 911 immediately.

Tension headaches that occur just about every day for months can be a symptom of depression, anxiety or another mental illness. Your physician can help you determine if you have other symptoms of these conditions and provide a referral to a qualified mental health professional, as well as help manage the pain of your headaches.

Chronic migraines can interfere with your life. Luckily, prescription medications are available for managing migraine pain and preventing migraines. Certain migraines are also a sign of a more serious physical condition. Talk to your physician about any migraine symptoms you may have.

To find a physician with Texas Health Resources who can help you manage your headaches, visit TexasHealth.org.

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