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Headaches tend to range from dull to acute pain and have definitive causes, unlike migraines which are often debilitatingly painful and stem from causes that are not yet fully understood.

What are headaches?

Because brain tissue does not have pain-sensitive nerves, headaches are actually discomfort felt in the scalp, face, mouth, and neck areas. Headaches have many causes and can be classified into two major categories: Primary and Secondary Headaches.

A primary headache is a significant medical condition in and of itself, while a secondary headache stems from an underlying and related medical condition.

What are the causes and symptoms of headaches?

Headaches come in a variety of types and can be caused by a number of conditions or circumstances. The following is a list of common causes and symptoms but is not an exhaustive one.

Arthritis-Related Headaches

Many people begin to experience arthritis as they age. This is when there is inflammation in the joints that creates stiffness. Headaches can result from arthritis that resides in the head and neck region. The pain tends to worsen when movement occurs and is often treated with muscle relaxers or medications that suppress inflammation.

Caffeine Withdrawal

Roughly 90% of people consume caffeine, typically in the form of beverages or chocolate. Those who consume significant amounts may experience headaches several days after consumption. This is usually the result of blood vessel dilation.

Cerebral Aneurysm

A cerebral aneurysm is often the result of very high blood pressure and could be misinterpreted as a migraine or cluster headache. This is an extremely serious condition where a blood vessel may expand and potentially rupture, causing a stroke. Other signs that may accompany the headache include blurred vision and a stiff neck. Those with symptoms should immediately seek medical care.

Dental-Related Headaches

Often, conditions that impact the teeth or jaw can result in headaches and/or facial area pain. One common cause is bruxism, which is the excessive grinding of the teeth. Another common cause is a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which is associated with poor alignment of the jaw, arthritis or ligament damage.

High-Altitude Sickness

Many people develop illnesses when they reach higher altitudes, usually when they are more than 3000 feet above sea level. These problems may also be referred to as “acute mountain sickness.” Headaches are among the most common symptoms that occur. The cause is typically a lack of oxygen.

“Ice Pick”

The term “ice pick” refers to those where the sufferer feels intense “stabbing” pain. These may be primary or secondary headaches that last for a few seconds. These episodes may be mild or extreme in severity and it is important to promptly seek medical attention.

Menstrual Headaches

These may occur among women when there are changes relating to estrogen and progesterone. Menstrual migraines occur in some women before or in the early days of menstruation. This is in response to a drop in the levels of both of these hormones.

Some women who use birth control may also be more prone to headaches of varying severity. This is also associated with fluctuations that occur in hormone levels. Post-menopausal women may benefit from using an estrogen patch. This serves to maintain a low but steady estrogen level.

“Rebound” Headaches

A rebound headache results from using excessive medication for a headache. They are most likely to occur after taking some type of analgesic or other treatment for more than a week. Often the problem will begin after the medication is discontinued. These are commonly treated with dihydroergotamine (DHE) and the majority of people experience improvement.

Sinus-Related Headaches

The sinus cavities exist within the region of the cheekbones, nose, and forehead. The sinuses may become irritated, leading to inflammation and feelings of pressure, and head pain. Some people will develop a painful headache during these episodes. Sinus headaches are commonly mistaken as migraines and vice versa.

Spinal Headaches

One type of headache that can result in significant pain is a spinal headache. These may occur when the spinal fluid that is responsible for cushioning begins leaking. The fluid drainage may cause pain in the nerves and tissue in the area of the brain. A spinal headache may last for a short period of time or extend for several days.

Many people find pain relief from lying down. The pain may reappear when a person sits up or stands. Roughly 32% of people who undergo a spinal tap develop headaches. A spinal tap or lumbar puncture may be needed to make a diagnosis or to administer anesthesia.

Thunderclap Headaches

One type of headache that can be very painful is a “thunderclap” headache. These tend to occur suddenly and last for several minutes. Some people become nauseous. This may be a sign of internal bleeding in the area of the brain and you should promptly seek medical attention.

What causes fibromyalgia?

Doctors and researchers remain un-sure about why fibromyalgia develops. They have considered several key factors that may play a role in its development. It has been associated with genetics and has also been linked to certain types of infections. However, it was also observed to have been triggered by both physical and or emotional trauma. Nevertheless, in some cases, a symptom slowly builds up over time without one triggering event.

There are, however, risk factors that may contribute to the development of fibromyalgia. These factors are as follows: sex (because it is more common in women than in men), family history, and other disorders (such as lupus, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis).

How are headaches treated?

There are many different types of prescription medications used for treatment. Ergotamines are a class that is prescribed specifically for migraines. They function by causing contraction of the blood vessels that surround the brain. These drugs tend to be fast-acting and are administered in the form of a pill, tablet, injection, and others. Commonly prescribed ergotamines include dihydroergotamine (DHE-45, Migranal), ergotamine (Ergomar), and methysergide (Sansert).

A class of drugs known as triptans have emerged more recently and has proven to be effective in treating migraines. They increase the level of serotonin within the brain to reduce pressure on the blood vessels and alleviate inflammation. They are most commonly administered in the form of pills, dissolving tablets and nasal sprays. Common triptans include almotriptan (Axert), eletriptan (Relpax), frovatriptan (Frova), naratriptan (Amerge), and more.

Opioids are tightly controlled pain medications often prescribed when other medications have proven to be ineffective. These are a potent class of medications that pose safety concerns including overdose and addiction. Some of the most common opioids include codeine, meperidine (Demerol), morphine, and oxycodone (OxyContin).

AZ Pain and Spine Institute
Headaches Treatments

Here at Arizona Pain and Spine Institute, we improve our patients’ quality of life by alleviating and managing their pain. Some of our Headaches treatments include:

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Why choose AZ Pain and Spine Institute to treat your Headaches?

We have a team of medical practitioners, pain management doctors, and staff who are experts on pain management, including Headaches. We use state-of-the-art technology and effective approaches in achieving our mission. We care about your well-being and are committed to making your life pain-free.