Migraines and Headaches on the Pain Scale

A headache is pain that can occur on one or both sides of the head, and is isolated (axial) or radiating from one part to another.

Symptoms

Headaches can be a sharp, throbbing or dull pain,  and develop suddenly or gradually over time. Migraines, tension, or sinus headaches are more painful and can include additional symptoms like nausea and fatigue.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches pound or throb, and affect the entire head or shift from side to side.  Headache symptoms can include light, noise, or odor sensitivity, blurred vision, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, paleness, fatigue, dizzines, and warm or cold sensations.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches can range from mild to intense pain, and occur in the front, top, or sides of the head.  Pain usually starts gradually in the middle of the day, and can last from minutes to days.  Patients can be irritable, have muscle aches, difficulty sleeping, concentrating, and sensitivity to light and noise.

Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches cause deep and constant pain in the forehead, nose, and cheekbones.  The pain can intensify with sudden head movements or neck strain, and cause nasal discharge, clogged ears, fever, and facial swelling.

Causes

Most headaches are caused by mental overactivity or problems with pain-sensitive head structures.  Pain can be caused by brain chemical activity, nerve or blood vessels, neck muscles injuries or genetic predisposition.  Secondary head pain can be a disease symptom that is mild (flu), moderate (trigeminal neuralgia), or a serious (stroke) condition.

Treatments

Patients have a variety of treatments to choose from including self or alternative care, medications, and therapies.

Self Care

Regular sleep, healthy foods, and exercise can help reduce headaches.  Manage stress and pain with meditation, yoga, walking, and music.  Avoid pain triggers like alcohol, certain food, and poor posture.

Medications

Patients can take over-the-counter (OTC) acetaminophen (Tylenol) or anti- inflammatory medications (ibuprofen or naproxen) to reduce mild to moderate pain.  If that fails, physicians can treat pain with opioids (Codeine) or anticonvulsants (Topamax), improve blood flow with beta blockers (Metoprolol), and affect serotonin with antidepressants (Elavil) or triptans (Frova).  Botox can help chronic migraine patients that suffer daily 4 hour or longer pain attacks.

Therapies

Physicians might recommend acupuncture, massage, or talk therapy to help cope and alleviate headache pain.

Visit Your Doctor

Visit a doctor if your headaches become more frequent, severe, and unaffected with OTC medications.  See your physician immediately if you are unable to work, sleep, or do basic activities of daily living.

Seek Emergency Care

A headache can be a symptom of a serious condition like a stroke, aneurysm, or tumor. Go to an emergency room or call 911 if you are experiencing the worst headache of your life and are having difficulty seeing, speaking, walking, vomiting, high fever, or numbness.

To learn more about headaches, please visit the Mayo Clinic & WebMD