Headache and Migraine

  • Basics

    Headache is one of the most common human pains. Headaches are usually little more than a passing annoyance. However, headaches can also be chronic and severe, and can disrupt your daily life. Some headaches are so intense that they require bed rest. Headaches can signal a more serious problem such as an infection or a tumor.

    About 70% to 80% of the population experiences headaches. Fifty percent of the population experiences headaches at least once per month, 15% experience headaches at least once per week, and 5% experience daily headaches. One survey found that more than 80% of people who have migraine headaches miss work or are unable to perform their household duties.

    While migraine headaches can begin at any age, they typically begin between the ages of 10 and 30. The headaches generally become less intense after age 50. Women experience headaches more often than do men.

    Tension and migraine headaches are the two most common types of headache. A tension headache is a dull, steady pain that is sometimes described as a tight band-like or vise-like gripping pressure around your head. A migraine headache is an intense throbbing pain that usually affects one side of your head, and often is accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Migraine headaches may also be preceded by an aura such as a visual hallucination or a pins-and-needles feeling on one side of your body.

    Tension headaches usually subside within a few hours. Migraine headaches are much more intense than tension headaches. If untreated, migraine headaches can linger for days. Exercise will make a migraine headache worse, but may improve a tension headache.

  • Causes

    Migraine headaches happen when the arteries of your head widen and become inflamed. Some people get a migraine headache after eating chocolate, oversleeping, or drinking red wine. Skipping a meal or going without food for too long can cause them, too. Sleep deprivation and emotional stress are other well-known triggers. In women, hormonal fluctuations associated with menstruation and ovulation may induce migraine headaches.

    Tension headaches are caused by muscle tension in the head and neck. Stress is a major factor that initiates tension headaches. Sitting in an uncomfortable position for too long or being fatigued can also lead to tension headaches. Like migraine headaches, tension headaches can also be triggered by lack of sleep or skipping a meal.

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