Headaches and Migraines – A Basic Overview

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According to recent sources, over 45 million Americans consider themselves sufferers of chronic headaches and an astounding 28 million classify those headaches as migraines. A migraine is like a standard headache, except it is characterized by much more intense and severe pain. It is also correlated with feelings of nausea, sensitivity to both light and noise and a more centrally located pain (such as pain just behind one eye or in one temple).

Headaches can strike any age group. In fact, nearly 20% of adolescents and children suffer from them. They can be debilitating and frustratingly difficult to treat. The reason for much of this difficulty is that there are so many different types of headaches. To be exact, 150 different categories of headaches have been identified, each due to a slightly different stressor.

Some of the major categories are tension headaches, migraines, cluster headaches, sinus headaches and hormone headaches (just to name a very few).

No matter the type of headache you're suffering from, there are some common threads. All headers are the result of pain signals being sent to your brain via blood vessels and nerves. The rudimentary physiological source of the pain is constriction of the blood vessels followed by dilation and the release of certain chemicals such as serotonin. Why those pain signals trigger in the first place varies according to what type of headache you suffer from. However, in some cases, why the pain signal becomes activated is widely unknown.

Headaches are also broken down into two different groups – acute-sunset and tension headaches. Acute-sunset headaches are those that occur suddenly and without warning. These are commonly associated with colds, fever or infection. They can also be brought on by inflammation of one's sinuses, throat or ear. Tension headaches have a slew of causes ranging from emotional stress to excessive consumption of alcohol, even not eating properly or falling into poor sleep patterns. Headaches can also be a symptom of another greater problem at work. Many people that suffer from headaches are overly stressed or even clinically depressed. (This is in no way saying that everyone who has headaches also has a larger undering problem, but in some cases, it can indicative of a more problematic situation.)

Many things can trigger a headache. In fact, the triggers for headaches are as varied as the kinds of heads themselves.

One way to bring a headache on is exposure to strong odors or second-hand smoke. Some foods may even be enough to push sensitive headache sufferers into pain. Other common environmental factors include pollution, overly bright lights or drastic weather changes.

Overstressing your body is always an easy way to bring an attack. Whether it's sore muscles in the neck or upper back, or simply exercising in an overly strenuous manner, any of these can explain your pain.

There are also headaches brought on simply by trauma, such as being hit on the head in some capacity and in much rarer cases, headaches can mean something really serious such as a tumor.

The good news for all those millions of headache sufferers around the world is that diagnosing the trigger for your headache is more than half the battle. Once a doctor knows what brings on an attack, it becomes much easier to treat it.

Treatments vary greatly from bed rest to medication.