Headaches often are related to stress, allergies or a hangover resulting from drinking too much alcohol. However, severe or recurring headaches, especially those accompanied by other symptoms, may be a sign of a more serious disorder and should be treated by a doctor.

Ninety percent of the population has at least one headache per year. Headaches affect people of all ages and about 6 percent of children experience migraines. More than 35 million North Americans have migraine headaches.

Before meeting with a headache specialist, maintaining a headache journal that tracks headache patterns – such as the location and severity of the pain, duration of the pain, medications taken and possible headache triggers – can provide helpful information for your diagnosis and treatment.

Not all headaches require medical attention, and most respond with simple painkillers such as paracetamol/acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, or diclofenac.

One type of treatment is usually not sufficient for chronic sufferers and they may have to find a variety of different ways of managing, living with, and seeking treatment of chronic daily headache pains. There are two types of treatment for chronic headaches: acute abortive treatment and preventive treatment. Acute abortive treatement is aimed to relieve the symptoms immediately. Preventive treatment is focused on controlling the headaches that are chronic. Acupuncture has been found to be beneficial in chronic headaches of both tension and migraine types.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headache is a condition of recurring attacks of excruciating pain — often described as burning or penetrating — on one side of the head, usually behind an eye. Occasionally the pain extends to the forehead, nose, cheek or upper jaw on the same side.

Men experience cluster headache three to four times more often than women. Cluster headache usually does not run in families.

Attacks occur nearly every day or several times a day for weeks or months and may disappear for several months or even years. Attacks may last from 15 minutes to three hours, and often occur during the night.

There are two kinds of cluster headache: episodic and chronic. Those suffering from episodic cluster headaches have relatively long, pain-free remissions between headaches. Chronic cluster headache sufferers do not have long remissions. If during the past year or longer, you have had only one month or less of relief between headache attacks, you may have chronic cluster headache. About 10 percent of people with cluster headaches are considered chronic sufferers.

Other symptoms of cluster headaches, which typically occur on the same side as the pain, include:

  • Red or teary eyes
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Facial swelling

Migraine Headaches

Migraine is the most common cause of disabling headache, affecting 35 million North Americans. About 15 percent of women and 6 percent of men experience migraine. The condition is often hereditary; if you have migraines, it is very likely that another family member suffers from them too.

Migraine is characterized by recurrent attacks, with pain often on one side of the head that may be throbbing or pounding, accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound, and to head movement. Although migraine can occur at any time of day or night, they tend to affect people in the morning.

Episodes can last from several hours to several days and often are disabling. During the attack, pain may travel from one part of the head to another and may radiate down the neck into the shoulder. Scalp tenderness occurs in the majority of patients during or after an attack.

Signs and symptoms of migraine headaches include:

  • Throbbing or pounding pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Scalp tenderness
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Worsening of pain with movement
  • Visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or blind spots in your vision
  • Abnormal body sensations, called paresthesias, such as tingling, numbing or prickling
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness or vertigo

Tension Headaches

Tension-type headache is a term used to describe chronic headaches that cause a tight, band-like pain. A tension headache causes a mild to moderate steady pain, tightness or pressure around the head and neck. These headaches may be provoked by the stress and frustrations of everyday life, eyestrain or poor posture.

This is the most common type of headache, afflicting 88 percent of women and 68 percent of men.

When tension-type headaches occur on a daily or almost daily basis, they are called chronic daily headaches. Often, other symptoms accompany these headaches including fatigue, sleep disturbances and depression. Tension-type and migraine headaches can and often do occur together, and many doctors believe that the two types of headaches arise from the same mechanism.