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Almost everyone gets a headache now and then. For most people, a headache is an infrequent annoyance that comes and goes. Headache pain is probably caused by abnormal interaction between the brain, nerves and blood vessels in the head. Shifting levels of body chemicals or exposure to environmental stresses, or certain foods and drinks may also trigger headache pain.

Although there are several types of headaches, migraine and tension headaches are the most common. Usually headaches can be self-managed, but headaches associated with serious health problems need professional care. Consult your doctor for headaches that occur along with any of the following:

Pain that is different from your ‘usual' headache

High fever along with a stiff neck
Ongoing numbness or muscle weakness
Loss of vision that persists for several hours or outlasts the headache
Pain following a recent head injury
Pain along with fainting, convulsions, or a change in mental awareness
A migraine is a moderate-to-severe throbbing headache that can last from several hours to a few days. The pain is typically centered over one eye or temple, or at the back of the head; it may also occur at both sides of the head. Nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and noise often accompany the headache. In some people, a migraine attack may be preceded by a migraine aura (seeing white spots or zigzag lines, or ringing in the ears).

A migraine can be ‘triggered' or aggravated by stress, missed meals, lack of sleep, certain odours, foods or medications, alcohol, and hormonal changes. Not everyone who gets migraines share the same trigger factors. Keeping a food and pain diary can help you identify what triggers your migraines.

Migraines tend to run in families. They can occur during childhood, where they are more common in boys than girls. However, migraines are two-to-three times more common in women than in men.

If you suffer from migraines, reducing pain is the obvious first step towards feeling better. Common pain medications can help relieve your migraine. For severe cases, your doctor may prescribe migraine medications to you.

Tension headache
Tension headaches are different from migraines. Tension headaches cause a dull, steady pain on both sides of the head, in the neck and at the back of the head. The eyes may also feel tired. The pain is usually mild-to-moderate, but it tends to worsen as the day goes by. You may also experience tightness or tenderness in the muscles of your head, neck, jaw and shoulder.

There are many causes of tension headaches, including a lack of fresh air, a lack of food, eyestrain, stress, too much alcohol, high blood pressure and caffeine withdrawal.

Acute tension headache is very common in adults and adolescents. However, if your tension headache occurs a few times weekly for several months or longer, you probably have chronic tension headache.

Tension headaches usually respond to immediate care. Taking over-the counter pain medications can help relieve acute tension headaches. Antidepressants or other medication may be needed to treat chronic cases.

If your headache is associated with a cold, be careful when taking pain relief medications and avoid an overdose of paracetamol.

Help yourself by following some simple steps:

Identify factors that cause your headache and avoid them
Take pain relief medication and rest
Apply a wet compress
Drink plenty of water and eat a healthy diet
Learn to manage stress
Check your posture when sitting at desks


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