It can start as a dull ache – barely noticeable – but by the end of the day you’re clutching your forehead in pain. Most of the time, headaches are a nuisance and nothing to worry about. If headaches disrupt your life on a regular basis, however, they should be discussed with a physician.
Neurologist Kevin Brown, DO, sees many patients with headaches at Hennepin County Medical Center’s Chaska Neurology and Specialty Clinic. “You should consult a physician if you suffer from persistent headaches that disrupt your daily function or are associated with headache “red flags,” he says.
You should be concerned if:
• You are over 50 years of age when headaches start.
• There is a significant change in characteristics compared to prior headaches.
• Your headache is always on one side.
• You experience a new “worst” headache.
Many Varieties of Headaches
Headaches can come and go with no warning and no clear cause. Other times, they can be a symptom of another disease or condition. Knowing the symptoms of different types of headaches can help you get the appropriate treatment.
• Tension headache. Your headache might be due to tension if the pain is dull and achy. Tension headaches are also usually accompanied by a sore neck and can often be treated with over-the-counter pain medications.
• Migraine. A migraine is characterized by throbbing, severe pain that lasts from four to 72 hours. The pain can also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. If you feel the symptoms of a migraine coming on, rest in a quiet, dark room. A hot or cold compress on the forehead can help, as can trying to sleep. If home remedies don’t work, talk to your physician about other non-drug therapies or prescription medications.
• Chronic headache. If you experience headaches more than 14 days of a month, you might have chronic headaches. They can feel moderate to severe, and they may be a sign of an underlying condition. If you experience headaches frequently, check with your doctor to see if headaches are signaling another health condition.
• Rebound headache. Unfortunately, sometimes what helps headaches can make them worse. If you take pain medication for headaches often, and the headache returns, you might be experiencing a rebound headache. The only way to stop the cycle of rebound headaches is to discontinue the use of that particular medication.
• Cluster headache. A cluster headache is a rare condition that affects less than 1% of adults. It is characterized by a sharp, severe pain that is often only on one side of the head. It is very painful, but lasts a short time – about 45 to 90 minutes. If you have cluster headaches, a doctor may prescribe preventive medicines.
Easing the pain
Headaches don’t have to ruin your day or quality of life. Talk to your health care provider about the treatment options that may be right for you. Dr. Brown recommends an initial evaluation to determine if you suffer from a primary or secondary headache disorder. The first major step on the road to recovery is a thorough evaluation to establish the correct diagnosis. Treatment varies based on headache subtype and most headache pain can be relieved.
When a Headache Is an Emergency
If you have a headache that feels different from other headaches you’ve had, you should err on the side of caution and seek emergency care. And if you have head pain after an injury, call 911 immediately.
A headache can be a sign of a serious condition if you experience:
• Sudden and severe pain
• Stiff neck
• Confusion or difficulty speaking
• Double vision
• Numbness or weakness
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Brown at the Neurology and Specialty Clinic in Chaska call 612.873.6963.