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DESCRIPTION: Headache is a common and frequently
recurrent disorder that can seriously disrupt a person's life.
Headache pain may be generalized (all over) or localized (in one
area) and may range from mild to severe. Some headaches have a
known cause while others, like migraine headaches, do not.
Postural changes, prolonged coughing, sneezing, or exposure to
sunlight may contribute to headache. Sometimes a headache may be
a symptom of a serious underlying problem (such as stroke or
brain tumor) and may call for prompt medical care. Serious
headaches include those that are sudden and severe, associated
with convulsions or seizures, accompanied by confusion or loss of
consciousness, associated with a blow on the head or pain in the
eye or ear, or persistent in a person who was previously
headache-free. Recurring headaches in children, those associated
with fever, or those that interfere with normal life should be
checked by a doctor. The most common types of headaches include migraine,
cluster, and tension-type.
produce throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head.
Symptoms, besides pain, may include nausea, vomiting, light and
noise sensitivity, fever, chills, flu-like achiness, and
sweating. Some sufferers have warnings before a migraine, such as
visual disturbances. Migraine attacks may last from a few hours
to days, and may recur several times a week or once every few
Cluster headaches, which
mainly occur in men, occur as a series of one-sided
headaches that are sudden and excruciating and may continue for
15 minutes to 4 hours. Symptoms on the painful side may include
nasal congestion, drooping eyelid, and irritated, watery (teary)
Tension-type headaches, which are the most common
headache type, produce a dull, achy pain that feels like pressure
is being applied to the head or neck. These headaches may be
associated with muscle tenderness and increased electromyogram
TREATMENT: For many people,
analgesics may provide relief. Antidepressants may be used to
relieve stress-related headaches. Muscle relaxants may benefit
chronic tension headache sufferers. Ergotamine tartrate or
sumatriptin taken at the beginning of a migraine headache may
reduce the severity of the headache. Other therapeutic options
may include supportive measures such as regular exercise,
biofeedback, and physical therapy. Chronic and repetitive use of
headache treatments may increase headache frequency in some
individuals. Monitoring by a physician experienced with treating
headache is helpful.
RESEARCH: The NINDS supports and
conducts research aimed at improving the diagnosis of headaches
and finding ways to prevent and treat them.
These articles, available from a medical library, are
sources of in-depth information on headache:
Farley, D. "Headache Misery May Yield to Proper
Treatment." FDA Consumer, Food and Drug
Administration, Rockville, MD, pp. 26-31 (September 1992).
Mathew, N. "Cluster Headache." Neurology, 42
(Suppl 2):3; 22-31
Silberstein, S. "Tension-type and Chronic Daily
Headache." Neurology, 43:9; 1644- 1649 (September
Stewart, W, et al. "Prevalence of Migraine Headache in
the United States." Journal of the American Medical
Association, 267:1; 64-69 (January 1, 1992).
Welch, K. "Drug Therapy of Migraine." The New
England Journal of Medicine, 329:20; 1476-1483 (November 11,
Information is available from the following organizations:
Am. Council for Headache Education (ACHE)
875 Kings Highway, Ste. 200
Woodbury, NJ 08096
American Chronic Pain Association
P.O. Box 850
Rocklin, CA 95677
The National Headache Foundation
428 West St. James Place
Chicago, IL 60614
National Chronic Pain Outreach Assoc.
7979 Old Georgetown Road, Ste. 100
Bethesda, MD 20814-2429
Information provided by NIH.
July 18, 1997