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Headache

Definition

A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck. Serious causes of headaches are rare. Most people with headaches can feel much better by making lifestyle changes, learning ways to relax, and sometimes by taking medications.

Alternative Names

Pain - head; Rebound headaches; Medication overuse headaches

Causes

The most common type of headache is likely caused by tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp, and jaw. This type of headache is called tension headache:

A migraine headache involves severe pain. It usually occurs with other symptoms, such as vision changes, sensitivity to sound or light, or nausea. With a migraine:

Rebound headaches are headaches that keep coming back. They often occur from overuse of pain medicines. For this reason, these headaches are also called medication overuse headaches. Persons who take pain medicine more than 3 days a week on a regular basis can develop this type of headache.

Other types of headaches:

In rare cases, a headache can be a sign of something more serious such as:

Home Care

There are things you can do to manage headaches at home, especially migraines or tension headaches. Try to treat the symptoms right away.

When migraine symptoms begin:

A headache diary can help you identify your headache triggers. When you get a headache, write down the following:

Review your diary with your doctor to identify triggers or a pattern to your headaches. This can help you and your doctor create a treatment plan. Knowing your triggers can help you avoid them.

Your doctor may have already prescribed medicine to treat your type of headache. If so, take the medicine as instructed.

For tension headaches, try acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Talk to your doctor if you are taking pain medicines 3 or more days a week.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Some headaches may be a sign of a more serious illness. Seek medical help right away for any of the following:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your health care provider will take a medical history and will examine your head, eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, and nervous system.

Your health care provider will ask many questions to learn about your headaches. Diagnosis is usually based on your history of symptoms.

Tests may include:

References

Digre KB. Headaches and other head pain. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 405.

Garza I, Swanson JW, Cheshire WP Jr, et al. Headache and other craniofacial pain. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 69.

Kwiatkowski T, Friedman BW. Headache disorders. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 103.


Review Date: 10/29/2013
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Department of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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