Headaches are one of the top pain-related health complaints of Americans. Nearly everyone gets headaches, it’s just a matter of how often and to what degree of severity. Headaches are more than just irritating, they can have a severely negative impact on your quality of life, impairing your ability to work productively and enjoy interactions with others. Understandably, we see a high number of patients at the Diagnostic Pain Center who are seeking headache treatment in Austin.
There are several different types of headaches that exist…
Tension headaches, also referred to as stress headaches, are the most common type of headache among adults. As their name implies, tension headaches can be caused by tensing and stretching of the neck and scalp muscles. They are often brought on by emotional stress. Tension headaches usually cause a dull, steady ache on both sides of the head, though they can sometimes develop into a throbbing pain. These types of headaches are usually intermittent and each episode can last for several hours. Not surprisingly, tension headaches can occur more frequently during times of increased and persistent stress. Eye strain can also trigger tension headaches, which is why they’re fairly common among workers who spend long periods of time staring at a computer screen.
Migraine headaches are markedly more severe than your typical tension headache. Migraine pain is often described as a pounding, throbbing pain, and can range from moderate to severe. A migraine can last anywhere from several hours to several days. Those who suffer from migraine headaches usually experience them 1 – 4 times per month. Migraine pain is often accompanied by other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, noise or odors, loss of appetite and stomach pain. While the exact causes of migraine headaches are not clear, genetics are known to play a role. It is believed that various triggers that cause abnormal brain activity can cause changes in the blood vessels of the brain that lead to migraines. There are a number of things that can trigger migraine headaches, including hormonal fluctuations, certain food and drinks, stress, medications, change in sleeping pattern and other physical factors. Imbalances in brain chemicals like serotonin are also believed to play a role in the onset of migraines. The levels of serotonin, which helps regulate pain in your nervous system, drops during migraine attacks.
This type of headache can often accompany sinusitis, a condition in which the membranes lining your sinuses become inflamed or swollen. Sinus headaches are usually felt around the eyes, cheeks, forehead or the bridge of the nose. They are associated with a feeling of pressure or deep, constant pain that usually intensifies with sudden movement or straining of the head. Sinus headaches are typically accompanied by other sinusitis symptoms like nasal discharge, a feeling of fullness in the ears, facial swelling and fever.
Mixed Headache Syndrome
This type of headache exhibits symptoms of both migraine and tension headaches, and is thought to be somewhere in the middle of the headache continuum. Mixed headache syndrome is also referred to as “transformed migraines” and “coexisting migraine and tension-type headaches”. It is believed that the migraine occurs first, which then triggers the following tension headache.
Cluster headaches are the least common type of headache, but often the most severe. The pain associated with cluster headaches is described as an intense stabbing or piercing pain that is constant or throbbing. The onset of this type of headache is very sudden and frequently occurs at night, 1 – 3 hours after falling asleep. The pain emanates from behind the eye or around the eye region, and is on one side of the head. The term “cluster headache” refers to headaches that occur in cyclical patterns. Bouts of frequent attacks, referred to as cluster periods, can last anywhere from weeks to months. These cluster periods are typically followed by remission periods wherein the headache attacks cease completely. These remission phases can last for months and sometimes even years.
Treatment for Headache Pain
There are a variety of treatments available to help manage and control headache pain. Identifying and (if possible) avoiding common triggers that cause your headaches is an important element of controlling headache and migraine pain. Prescription medications and pain relievers can be very effective at staving off headaches and controlling migraine pain. If you suffer from frequent tension headaches, relaxation therapies, hot/cold compresses, massage and certain lifestyle changes can help get these under control.
For those who suffer from chronic migraines, Botox injections administered at specific points have proven to be effective in blocking chemical changes that occur in nerve endings. This essentially relaxes the muscles in the area, causing them to temporarily become too weak to constrict. To learn more about this treatment, please visit our Botox injections for migraines page.
If you experience consistent headaches or migraine pain, please call our office today to schedule an appointment or to learn more about available headache treatments in Austin.