(MayoClinic.com) Your head hurts. Again! The first step in thwarting your recurring headaches is to determine what type you have. Sometimes headaches are a symptom of another disease or condition. In other cases, no clear cause can be found.
To better understand your headaches, take a close look at your signs and symptoms. To aid in diagnosis, your doctor may suggest you keep a headache diary in which you note when your headaches occur, what your signs and symptoms are and any triggers you can identify.
Tension-type headaches, the most common variety of headaches:
Most intermittent tension-type headaches are easily treated with over-the-counter medications, including:
In addition, alternative therapies aimed at stress reduction may help. They include:
Migraines affect three times more women than men. Migraines:
Migraine treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and preventing additional attacks. If you know what triggers your migraines, avoiding those triggers will help prevent headaches. Treatment may include:
Cluster headaches, which are rare, occur off and on for weeks at a time. At least one episode usually occurs at the same time of day or night. During a cluster period, which can last for several months, you may experience one or more cluster headaches a day. These headaches, which occur more often in men than in women and more often in smokers:
Because the pain of a cluster headache strikes suddenly and may subside quickly, over-the-counter pain relievers aren't effective. Steps that may help include:
Chronic daily headaches are headaches that occur 15 days or more a month. The term encompasses different types of headaches that are characterized by their frequency and duration. The signs, symptoms and time frame vary depending on the type of headaches you have, and the pattern of signs and symptoms may change over time. An accurate description of your headache symptoms will help your doctor diagnose your condition and determine the best course of treatment.
Treatment for any underlying diseases or conditions often stops chronic daily headaches. When no underlying diseases or conditions are present, treatment focuses on preventive medication.
Medication-overuse headaches can affect anyone who has migraines, tension-type headaches or other chronic headaches and uses pain relievers several times a month. Sometimes called rebound headaches, medication-overuse headaches:
The only way to stop medication-overuse headaches is to reduce or stop taking the medication that's contributing to these headaches. Talk to your doctor about whether you should quit taking the medication or taper off gradually.
Uncommon primary headaches, also known as exertional headaches, can occur as a result of exercise, sex, bouts of coughing or other activities. Before diagnosing an uncommon primary headache, your doctor may recommend tests, such as an MRI, to determine that nothing serious is causing your headaches. Each type of exertional headache has its own set of characteristics.
Uncommon primary headaches are unusual, but if your headaches are predictable or chronic, your doctor may prescribe preventive medicine.
Seek emergency evaluation if any of the following features are present.
These symptoms suggest a more serious underlying condition, so it's important to get prompt diagnosis and treatment.Take control
Almost everyone gets headaches, and most are nothing to worry about. But if headaches are disrupting your daily activities, work or personal life, it's time to take action. Headaches can't always be prevented, but your doctor can help you manage the symptoms.
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