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Definition and causes of Headache

Headache is pain in the head and upper part of the neck. Headaches come in several forms and degrees of severity. It may be a condition/disease in itself or a symptom of another illness. Where the headache is the basic problem the condition is normally divided into the three categories: 

Additionally, headache, more rarely, might be triggered by different circumstances such as cold, physical exertion, sexual intercourse or cough. Headache is also often a symptom of other ailments and headache is often the companion of other ordinary diseases such as common cold, flu and sinus infection. Headache is also frequent in cases of poisoning with the best known hangover after excessive intake of alcohol. 

In rare cases, headache is the symptom of underlying serious illness such as brain tumor, stroke (bleeding or blood clot in the brain), brain membrane inflammation (meningitis), glaucoma or arteritis temporalis.

 Symptoms of headache

When headache is a symptom in itself the nature of the headache may be different: 

  • Pounding
  • Depressive
  • Stabbing
  • Diffuse or localized 

In addition, there may be tag along symptoms such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision distortion 
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Watery eyes and nose 

Precautions and diagnosis

Longer spells of headache should be consulted with a doctor for further examinations. Also when headache recurs often and adversely affects everyday activities the doctor should be consulted. It may be a good idea to keep a diary recording your headaches, as this can help the doctor determine the type of headache involved. The sudden onset of severe headache accompanied by a snap or crack in the head might be the sign of  bleeding under the middle brain membrane the meninges stemming from a stroke (burst blood vessel in the brain). This condition requires acute medical attention and is potentially fatal or having serious consequences for the victim. 

The diagnosis headache cannot be made by examinations as it is a subjective feeling. The type of headache can be determined from the headache location, nature, duration and possible accompanying signs. The doctor can examine whether there is tension in the neck and shoulders, and the vision is normal. In rare cases where there is suspicion of a serious underlying disease of the brain, a CT or MRI scan is relevant (see: Graph of the brain). 

Treatment of headache

In most cases, the headache is treated with ordinary headache medication for example aspirin or paracetamol (Panodil, Pinex and others). By tension headaches, it is important to reduce muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, for example by massage or special exercises and generally to be physically active. Migraines may require preventive medication if the attacks are frequent. During migraine attacks also nausea reducing medication or medication specially targeted on migraine might be relevant. The particular Hortons headache or cluster headache usually requires preventive medication. Severe cases are treated with supply of oxygen and special migraine medication.  

Outlook and complications

Most cases of headache passes by itself within a few hours. However some persons are almost disabled by frequent, prolonged and severe headache attacks. Most forms of headache disappear or become mitigated with age.

Read this article in Danish

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Brain and Nerves
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