What are Headaches and Migraines?
A headache refers to pain in any part of your head. Primary headaches are
caused by problems that affect pain-sensitive areas of your head. Common
types of primary headaches include:
- Cluster headache
- Migraine with aura
- Tension headache
A migraine is a type of headache that causes throbbing or pulsing pain,
usually on one side of the head, that is sometimes accompanied by other
symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound.
Secondary headaches are headaches that are caused by another condition,
such as a sinus infection, ear infection, dental problems, or a concussion.
Secondary headaches also can be triggered by lifestyle or environmental
factors, such as a tight hat or helmet, consuming alcohol, stress, or
Symptoms of headaches can vary. A headache can occur on one or both sides
of the head or be felt in one specific area. Some headaches may create
a “squeezing” sensation. Headache pain may be sharp, throbbing,
or dull. Headaches can come on slowly or suddenly, and the pain may last
anywhere from minutes to days.
Symptoms of migraine may include:
- Pain on one or both sides of your head
- Throbbing or pulsing pain
- Sensitivity to light or sound
Some people who get migraines also experience aura symptoms before or during
a migraine. Migraine aura symptoms may include:
- Visual disturbances, such as seeing bright spots, shapes, or flashes of light
- Loss of vision
- Tingling in one arm or leg
- Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the face or on one side of your body
- Trouble speaking
- Hearing sounds, such as noises or music
- Involuntary jerking or repetitive movements
Causes and Risk Factors
Headaches have many causes and can be triggered by underlying health conditions,
lifestyle factors, activities, and external stimuli in your environment.
Some people may carry genes that make them more likely to develop headaches.
To diagnose headache or migraine, your doctor will review your medical
history and evaluate your symptoms. Your doctor also may perform exams
or order tests, including:
Neurological exams. Neurological exams will differ depending on your age, but older children
and adults will be asked to answer questions and complete simple tasks
to test movement, muscle condition, the function of each of the senses,
and general neurological well-being.
Imaging tests. Your doctor may order imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans to rule out underlying health
Your doctor also may refer you to another medical specialist or order additional
tests to rule out other health conditions that may be causing your headaches.
The goal of headache and migraine treatment is to eliminate symptoms while
preventing future attacks. Your doctor will help you identify headache
triggers, if possible, and work with you to create a headache management
plan. Treatment may include:
Pain-relieving medications. Pain-relieving medications can be used to stop headache symptoms after
they have started.
Preventive medications. Preventive medications are taken regularly or as soon as symptoms begin
to reduce the severity and frequency of headaches or migraines.
Lifestyle changes. Lifestyle modifications — such as regulating sleep routines, exercising,
reducing stress, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating a balanced diet
— can help control headache and migraine symptoms in some people.