Chronic headaches: what’s the cause?

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According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches. And with busy schedules and limited sleep, headaches are certainly no stranger for many moms. We’ve all experienced headaches, they are easy to identify; but you may not know that there are several headache types that occur for different reasons. Knowing which type of headache you have can help you treat or prevent them.

Tension Headaches

This is the most common type of headache among adults. It is usually caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck that create mild to moderate pain. These contractions may be from fatigue, hunger, anxiety or mental stress. Usually, rest and over-the-counter (OTC) medication can help relieve the pain.

Sinus Headaches

Between the bones of the face are moist air spaces called sinuses. When these hollow cavities become swollen or irritated, they can cause facial pain around the cheeks, eyes and nose. Your doctor can help determine the cause of your sinus headache. If the root of the problem is an infection, antibiotics may be needed. The symptoms of a sinus headache may be relieved with decongestants or the use of a humidifier.

Hormonal Headaches

Many women suffer from headaches associated with changing hormone levels during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. Treatment options vary depending on the cause, but OTC medications, prescription medications and vitamin supplements may help. If you are pregnant, you should talk with your obstetrician before using any headache treatments.

Migraines

According to the National Headache Foundation, women are affected by migraines three times more than men. Migraines are thought to be caused by contractions in the blood vessels of the brain. Symptoms may include pulsating or throbbing on one side of the head, nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light or sound. Some people experience an aura, or visual cue, such as flashing lights or blind spots in vision before a migraine attack.
A migraine can last anywhere from 4 – 72 hours. Treatments for migraines vary, depending on the severity. OTC medications may be used for mild migraines, while prescription medications may be used for stronger migraines.

When to call your doctor

OTC medications with acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) may be useful in treating mild headaches. Remember to check the label for possible side effects and dangerous drug interactions. Prolonged use of these medications can also be harmful, potentially causing liver damage. Always check with your doctor before using OTC medications to make sure treatments are safe.

While headaches are common, pain beyond an occasional, mild headache could be a cause for concern. Let your doctor know if you experience a headache that is unusually severe or lasts more than a couple of days. If your headache is accompanied by dizziness, slurred speech or persistent vomiting, seek emergency medical care.

Dr. Katrapati is a ProMedica Physician specializing in internal medicine at Alexis Medical Center. For more info visit www.promedica.org/doctors.