April 24, 2014
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Pain Management

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Headaches

(Tension Headache, Sinus Headache, Migraine, Cluster Headache)

The Facts on Headaches

Headaches are extremely common - most people have a headache at some time in their life. Most headaches disappear on their own (with a little time) or with the help of mild pain relievers. Although most headaches are mild and temporary annoyances, some people have headaches that are so severe they need to consult a doctor for pain relief.

Children can also have headaches, some well before they reach the age of 10. Research shows that before puberty, headaches are more common in boys, but that trend is reversed after puberty. Adult women experience more headaches than adult men, and they're often linked to a woman's menstrual cycle. With advancing age, both women and men tend to have fewer, less severe headaches.

Headaches come in various forms: tension, migraine, sinus, and cluster headaches. In a small number of cases, headaches may signal a more serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Feeling under the weather?

Could your symptoms be signs of the flu?

Answer a few quick yes-or-no questions to help get you on the road to diagnosis and recovery!


Do I have the flu?

Results

 1  2  3 



  • sudden onset of fever or
  • sudden onset of cough


  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • sore throat
  • body or muscle aches
  • chills
  • headache
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • poor appetite
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea


  • people 65 years old or over
  • children under 5 years old
  • pregnant women
  • people who are obese
  • people living in a long-term care facility or nursing home
  • people with any of the following medical conditions:
    • asthma
    • cancer
    • chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
    • diabetes
    • heart disease
    • kidney disease
    • weakened immune system (e.g., HIV/AIDS)


YES YES      NO NO

It's unlikely that you have the flu.

You may have the flu.

You probably have the flu.

But you do have at least 1 risk factor that puts you at risk of flu complications. If you do experience any flu symptoms, talk to your doctor or visit a walk-in clinic as soon as possible.

And you may also have at least 1 risk factor that put you at risk of flu complications.

Talk to your doctor or visit a walk-in clinic if your symptoms concern you or if they get worse.

Talk to your doctor or visit a walk-in clinic as soon as possible.

Enter your postal code to find a clinic near you:  

Know the flu basics and how you can protect yourself and your family.

NOTE: If your symptoms still concern you, speak to your doctor or go to a walk-in clinic as soon as possible.

Flu complications include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, or worsening of existing chronic conditions

If your doctor prescribes an antiviral medication, start the medication within 48 hours after your symptoms begin. Antivirals, when started within 48 hours after symptoms begin, can help relieve flu symptoms and make the flu less severe.

Home treatment options for the flu include getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, treating symptoms (such as using a pain reliever for body aches and fever), and avoiding contact with others.

Other treatment options for the flu include home treatments like getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, treating symptoms (such as using a pain reliever for body aches and fever), and avoiding contact with others.

Get the facts about the 2 main types of medications used to treat the flu and home treatments you can try.

If you experience any of these severe symptoms, seek medical help right away:

  • shortness of breath, rapid or difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • bluish or grey skin colour
  • bloody or coloured mucus/spit
  • severe or continuous vomiting
  • sudden dizziness or confusion
  • high fever that's lasted more than 3 days
  • low blood pressure
  • stiff neck, sensitivity to light
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Other resources about flu:


Causes of Headaches

Headaches can be triggered by a variety of factors. The most common cause of headaches is prolonged tension or stress. These are called tension headaches or muscle-contraction headaches. Virtually everyone suffers from this at some time. Muscles in your scalp, neck, and face tighten and contract, causing spasms and pain. Psychological factors such as anxiety, fatigue (e.g., eyestrain), and stress (e.g., long periods of concentration) as well as mechanical factors such as neck strain (e.g., working on a computer for prolonged periods) are often the culprits behind a typical tension headache.

Migraines are generally more severe and can be debilitating. The cause of migraine is not known but many trigger factors are recognized. These include hormonal changes (during a woman's menstrual cycle), certain foods (e.g., chocolate, aged cheeses), beverages (e.g., red wine), strong odours, lack of sleep, and even stress. It is not uncommon to experience mixed tension-migraine headaches.

Sinus headaches are less common than people think. They can occur after a bout of upper respiratory infection, such as a cold. Along with the headache, people often have a runny or stuffy nose. Sinus headaches are caused when bacteria invade and infect the nasal sinuses.

Cluster headaches are a relatively uncommon type of headache. They tend to occur in clusters over a few days, weeks, or months with long headache-free periods lasting from months to years. In some cases, they are triggered by alcohol. The cause is not known.

So-called "ice pick" headaches are severe headaches that occur suddenly, causing a few seconds of intense pain at a small, localized spot. The exact cause of these headaches is unknown, but they are usually not due to a serious problem.





Symptoms and Complications of Headaches

Tension headaches generally cause a constant pressure or a dull ache that affects the entire head. In most cases it begins slowly, with the ache usually focused above the eyes. There's a feeling of tightness across the forehead or at the back of the neck. The ache can last for hours or days at a time, with mild to moderate pain that typically worsens by the end of the day.

Cluster headaches occur in "clusters" or groups, with pain lasting about 20 to 90 minutes at a time. They typically start during sleep. The ache and pain is limited to one side of the head and can be extremely severe. They are often accompanied by other symptoms on the side of the headache such as redness and tearing of the eye, drooping eyelid, and nasal stuffiness and dripping.

Migraines range from mild to severe. They often occur as one-sided head pain but can sometimes affect both sides. The location, duration, and intensity of pain vary widely from person to person as well as from one episode to another. Migraine is usually a pulsating pain, often with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, and hypersensitivity to light, noise, and smells. A migraine attack can last from hours to days, averaging 12 to 18 hours per episode. They're often so severe and incapacitating that many migraine sufferers are unable to carry out normal daily activities.

Migraine headaches are divided into two categories: migraine with aura and migraine without aura. Some people experience a pre-headache stage known as an aura, which can last about 10 to 30 minutes. A typical aura includes visual disturbances such as blind spots, zigzag flashes, and light sparks. The aura normally clears as the headache starts, but there can be some overlap. Sometimes the aura will occur without a headache but more often no aura occurs before the headache.

Although headaches can be painful and debilitating, they are usually not due to dangerous conditions. However, headaches can occasionally be a sign of something more serious. Very severe high blood pressure (above 180/110 mm Hg), stroke, brain tumour, or an aneurysm (a dilated weakened blood vessel) in the brain may cause headaches. Meningitis (an infection of the brain's lining) may also cause a headache. Warning signs are a sudden onset of headache accompanied by fever, stiff neck, and visual problems (double vision).

It's critical that you seek emergency medical care if you experience a headache that:

  • gets worse over days or weeks
  • is accompanied by impaired neurological function (e.g., loss of balance, weakness, numbness, or speech disturbance) and double vision (could signal a stroke)
  • is accompanied by persistent nausea and vomiting
  • is accompanied by seizures, mental disturbances, and loss of consciousness
  • is associated with a fever or stiff neck (could signal meningitis)
  • is different than the usual pattern of headaches you have experienced
  • strikes suddenly with great intensity
  • wakes you from sleep or is worse when you lie down

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