A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck. Tension headaches are due to tight, contracted muscles in the shoulders, neck, scalp and jaw often related to stress, depression, or anxiety. Overworking, not getting enough sleep, missing meals, and using alcohol or street drugs can increase susceptibility to headaches. They may also be triggered by chocolate, cheese, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). People who drink caffeine can have headaches when they don't get their usual daily amount. Other common causes include: holding the head in one position for a long time, a poor sleep position, overexertion, and clenching or grinding the teeth.
Tension headaches tend to be on both sides of the head, often starting at the back of the head and spreading forward. The pain may feel dull or squeezing, like a tight band or vice. Migraine headaches are severe, recurrent headaches generally accompanied by other symptoms like visual disturbances or nausea. They tend to begin on one side of the head, although the pain may spread to both sides. Often there is an "aura" (warning symptoms before the headache) followed by throbbing, pounding, or pulsating pain. Cluster headaches are sharp, extremely painful headaches that tend to occur several times per day for months and then go away for a similar period. Sinus headaches create pain in the front of the head and face due to inflammation in the sinus passages The pain tends to be worse when bending forward and when first waking up in the morning.
A headache diary can be helpful in identifying the source or trigger of the symptoms. Relief may come from resting with eyes closed and head supported. Relaxation techniques can help. A massage or heat applied to the back of the upper neck can be effective in relieving tension headaches. Try acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen for tension headaches. Prescription medications may also be effective for migraine headaches. Overuse and near daily use of over the counter analgesics like acetaminophen may lead to daily headaches. Worsening headaches are often due to overuse of analgesics and are the most common cause of chronic daily headaches. Diagnostic tests may be performed for serious headaches.
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