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Understanding Headaches

Dr. Jackie Zhang

Headaches are a common complaint affecting millions of individuals worldwide. There are various types of headaches, and an accurate diagnosis is important to ensure appropriate management.

Recent guidelines from the American Neurology Society and American Headache Society offer valuable insights into the classification and treatment of headaches.

  1. Tension-Type Headaches (TTH)

TTH is the most prevalent type of headache. Patients often describe it as a "band-like" discomfort around the head. While the exact cause remains elusive, factors such as stress, poor posture, and muscle tension contribute to its development.

Management typically involves lifestyle modifications, stress reduction techniques, and over-the-counter pain medications.

  1. Migraine Headaches

Migraines are reoccurring, throbbing headaches typically accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. They significantly impair daily functioning and quality of life for sufferers.

There have been recent advancements in understanding migraines, and medications are available to treat and prevent migraines.

  1. Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are excruciatingly painful attacks that occur in clusters, often at the same time of day or night. They are associated with symptoms such as tearing, droopy eyelids, and runny nose.

Oxygen therapy and medication are commonly used to alleviate symptoms during acute episodes, while preventive medications help reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

  1. Medication Overuse Headaches (MOH)

MOH, formerly known as rebound headaches, arise from frequent and excessive use of acute headache medications. This includes over-the-counter medications (such as Tylenol, Ibuprophen, Excedrin, etc.), prescription headache medications, and combination medications containing caffeine.

Patients who take these medications daily, multiple times a day, or several times a week can experience worsening headaches when they stop taking the medication or miss doses or days. Treatment involves discontinuation of the offending agent(s) under medical supervision, followed by a tailored management plan incorporating preventive strategies.

  1. Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches stem from underlying medical conditions such as infection, structural abnormalities of the brain or spinal cord, and other more serious conditions.

Prompt evaluation and management are essential to identify and address the underlying cause. Treatment varies based on the underlying cause of the headaches and can range from medication to surgical care.

If you suffer from frequent, severe, or new onset headaches, see your physician. They can offer personalized care to address your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Dr. Jackie Zhang is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.