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Oww… My Head Hurts – Determining Your Headache Type

Headaches are one of the most common health complaints.  Almost every person will experience a headache at some point during their life (imagine being one of the few who never gets a headache!)

The majority of headaches can be classified as vascular (migraine and cluster headaches), tension headaches or a mixture of the two.  Less frequent causes of headaches include trauma, dental pain, jaw disorders, neck disorders, sinus pain and tumours.

So, with so many different types of headaches, knowing what kind of headache you have is important for you to understand and will have a big impact on conventional and Naturopathic treatment of your headache.

The Most Common HeadachesTypes of headaches

The most common headache types seen in clinical practice are (from most to least common):

  • Tension Headache
  • Chronic Daily Headache
  • Migraine
  • Cluster Headache

Important Features to Know About Your Headache

When trying to determine what type of headache you have there are a number of features you should consider.

  1. Onset: Does the headache come on suddenly, or slowly over the course of several hours?
  2. Regularity: Does the headache start at the same time everyday?
  3. Laterality: Is the headache on one side, both sides, or everywhere?
  4. Location: Where is the pain the worst?  At the back of the head, top of the head, sides of the head, base of the neck, behind the eyes, or elsewhere?
  5. Pain characteristic: How would you describe the pain?  Dull, band-like, throbbing, pounding, excruciating?
  6. Associated symptoms: Are there any other symptoms associated with the headache?  Any muscle tension, blurred vision, nausea, sensitivity to light, need to move around?
  7. Aggravations: Have you found anything that makes the headache worse?
  8. Ameliorations: Have you found anything that makes the headache better?

Determining Your Headache Type

Taking your answers to the questions above you can match the type of headache that most closely matches the features of your headache.

Migraines

Onset Sudden, occasionally with an ‘aura’ preceding it (a sense that a headache is coming)
Regularity Not typically at the same time everyday, but exposure to triggers (such as sunlight, odours, fatigue or foods) can cause the migraine to occur with some regularity
Laterality One side, or both sides
Location Behind eyes, top of head, temples, sides of head
Pain Characteristic Throbbing, pounding
Associated symptoms Blurred visionLack of appetite, nausea, vomitingNeed for avoidance of light (photophobia) and sound (sonophobia)
Aggravations Light, noise, odours
Ameliorations Ergotamine drugsCaffeine (for some people)

.

Cluster Headaches

Onset Sudden
Regularity Occur in ‘clusters’ – regularly for several weeks or months usually followed by a time with no headaches
Laterality One sided
Location Behind the eyes, at the temples
Pain Characteristic Excruciating, throbbing
Associated symptoms Inability to lie still
Aggravations Very individual – some people have seasonal aggravations (worse in Spring) or time aggravations (worse with no sleep) or foods (alcohol, gluten, etc.)
Ameliorations Rocking, constant movement

.

Tension Headaches

Onset Slowly over the course of hours
Regularity Can be daily or during times of stress
Laterality Depends on location of muscle tension
Location Starts at base of skull or forehead and spreads over the entire head
Pain Characteristic Steady, constant, dull, pressure-sensation
Associated symptoms Muscle tension
Aggravations Stress, tight muscles
Ameliorations Muscle relaxation, massage, stretching

.

Chronic Daily Headaches

Onset Can be migraine-type or tension-type
Regularity Daily
Laterality Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)
Location Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)
Pain Characteristic Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)
Associated symptoms Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)
Aggravations Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)
Ameliorations Depends on type (migraine-type or tension-type)

 

What To Do Now?

So now that you have an idea of what kind of headache you have, where do you go from here?  The answer to that is more difficult.  Each type of headache has a different cause and a different treatment.  And each headache sufferer will respond to different interventions.  One person may need additional nutritional support, another person may need relaxation exercises and regular massage therapy, another may respond best to botanical medicine.

This is where Naturopathic Medicine can be extremely helpful for headache sufferers.  Each person is treated as an individual.  Your Naturopathic Doctor will help you determine the root cause of your headaches, and treat accordingly.  A Naturopath will figure out why you have headaches and remove that imbalance, helping you strive for a headache-free life.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.