Headaches: When Do I Seek Medical help? Types & Causes.

Throbbing or pulsating pain in your head? It is one of the most debilitating conditions to suffer from. We commonly call this condition as a headache. One can suffer from headache due to an underlying condition or stress.

What are Headaches?

Headache is the pain that occurs in the head or neck region. It is one of the most common pains experienced by people around the world. At times headache is accompanied by dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

Types of Headache

There are over 200 types of headaches. As such doctors have classified headaches as

  • Primary headache
  • Secondary headache

This helps them treat as well as diagnose the condition easily.

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches are those aches that occur without the presence of any other medical condition. Some of the common primary headaches include the following:


Migraine is a vascular headache that occurs on one side of the head mainly. At times the pain may radiate towards both sides. Migraine headaches are commonly accompanied with nausea and vomiting. This episodic headache usually last for a few hours to a few days. Moderate to severe pain accompanied with aura, visual distortions, sensitivity to light as well as sound is a sign of migraine.

Symptoms of Migraine
  • Intense, pulsating pain
  • Pain usually occurring on one side of the head
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Aggravated pain due to physical activity as well as coughing or sneezing
  • Numbness and coldness of limbs
Causes of Migraine

The definitive cause of migraine is still illusive. It occurs due to a combination of genetic factors, hormonal imbalance, neurological abnormalities as well as consumption of trigger foods such as caffeine, Chinese food, chocolates, etc. The cause or trigger in individual cases may differ. Thus, your healthcare provider may help you find the exact cause of your migraine trouble.

Treatment of Migraine

Migraine is usually treated with the help of medications. These medications include pain-relieving medications and preventive medications. However, there is no permanent cure for migraine as yet.

Cluster Headaches

Another vascular headache that causes extreme pain is cluster headache. These cluster headaches occur for several days or weeks at the same time of the day. It is more common in men, especially smokers. There are two types of cluster headaches, episodic and chronic cluster headache.

Causes of Cluster Headaches

The cause of cluster headache is unknown. It is thought to occur due to dilation of blood vessels. At times it may occur due to inflammation of the nerves present behind the eyes. Bright sunlight, smoking or even drinking alcohol may trigger cluster headaches.

Symptoms of Cluster Headaches
  • Pain that has a maximum pressure around the eyebrows
  • Dull, steady pain
  • Usually occurs frequently, but can occur sporadically
  • Nausea and vomiting rarely occur
Treatment of Cluster Headaches

Like migraine, there is no cure for cluster headaches. However treatments help in relieving the symptoms as well as help prevent more attacks. Some of these treatments include oxygen therapy. The patient is required to wear an oxygen mask that helps increase the amount of oxygen in blood. Thus, relaxing the blood vessels and providing pain relief. Apart from oxygen therapy, medications are advised that include pain relievers as well as preventive drugs.

Tension Headache

The most common type of primary headache is a tension headache. The pain not only occurs in the head and neck, but also radiates around the face and scalp muscles. This is a type of muscle contraction pain.

Causes of Tension Headaches

Doctors are still baffled about the exact cause of tension headache. It is thought to occur due to stress or tension, thus named tension-type headache.

Symptoms of Tension Headaches
  • A dull pain around the head, like a band
  • Pain radiates down to the neck
Treatment of Tension Headache

Tension headache is usually treated with the help of over-the-counter medications. Other than medications, one is advised stress management, massage as well as yoga

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are headaches that occur due to the presence of an underlying health condition. The causes of secondary headache include many factors based on a variety of medical conditions. Some secondary headaches are harmless and disappear after the treatment of the underlying condition. Others include serious headaches that can have life threathing consequences. Some of these secondary headaches are as follows:

Cerebral Aneurysm

A small balloon occurring in the brain vessel that causes nerve or brain pressure leading to a rupture, that is hemorrhage is called a cerebral aneurysm. It is a dangerous condition that can lead to paralysis or even death.

Causes of Cerebral Aneurysm

There are various causes of cerebral aneurysm that include:

  • Genetic conditions like hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, Noonan’s syndrome, etc.
  • People over the age of 50 are more susceptible
  • Head trauma
  • Brain infection
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug abuse
Symptoms of Cerebral Aneurysm
  • A ruptured aneurysm causes one to suffer from a worst headache.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe neck pain
  • Loss of vision

The treatment depends on the individual emergency situation

Trauma to Head or Neck

Head or neck trauma can lead to mild, moderate or severe headache. These traumas include:

  • Concussion
  • Blunt force trauma
  • Contusions
  • Motor accident
  • Vascular Trauma to Head or Neck
Causes of trauma to head or neck

Blood vessels of the neck and the brain may develop inflammation or blockage that leads to headache. Conditions that can lead to this type of headache include:

  • Stroke
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Transient ischemic attack
  • Infection

A bacterial or viral infection can lead to swelling of the meninges and cause headache. These infections include:

  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Other causes

There are various other health problems that lead to secondary headaches. These conditions include:

  • Disorders of the eyes, ears and nose
  • Disorders of the teeth, jaws
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Hypoxia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • High cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) pressure
  • Epileptic seizure
  • Brain tumor
Diagnosis of Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are diagnosed based on the history and physical examination of the patient. Tests are carried out to outline the exact cause and type of secondary headache. These tests include some of the following:

  • Blood test like erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein, etc.
  • CT scans that helps in detection of tumors, internal bleeding as well as stroke
  • MRI scans to observe the brain and spinal cord in detail
  • A lumbar puncture to detect infection such as tuberculosis, meningitis or a viral infection

When Do I Seek Medical help?

Headaches are very common ailments. This physical discomfort in majority cases does not lead to any serious health complication. However, when one suffers from really painful headaches, as if the whole world is about to break over his/her head, then one should seek immediate medical attention.

Other telltale signs of medical help required include the following:

  • Fever
  • Excessive nausea and vomiting, especially blood vomits
  • Weakness
  • Chang in behavior or excessive irritation
  • Change in sensation
  • Stiffness in neck
  • Blurry vision
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Speech problems
  • Dizziness and loss of balance
  • Blurry or double vision, etc.

Home Care for Headaches

Headaches make life difficult. Those who suffer from regular headaches, will agree with this statement. When a headache strikes, one should follow some simple home care tips that help relieve the symptoms to some extent. These include:

  • First and foremost, if possible, rest. It is very important that you leave all work aside and rest in a quiet, dark room. At times, a light  sleep helps relieve the stress that causes headaches.
  • You can place a light, cool cloth over the head as it helps you relax.
  • Those who vomit, should drink a lot of water to remain hydrated.
  • Eat a painkiller, apply balm or follow some relaxation techniques that help relieve the stress and tension that causes headaches.

People suffering from regular headaches, should consult their health care provider. It is better to start treatment at the earliest that suffer from this painful condition. Change in lifestyle, reduction of stress and proper diet also helps reduce the frequency of headache episodes to a great extent. For further information speak to your healthcare provider.