What is a headache?
It’s likely you’ve had a headache at some point or other in your life. In fact, the World Health Organisation estimate that about half of the world’s adult population have had at least one headache in the last year, meaning that they’re one of the most common health disorders.
A headache is defined as a pain in your head, such as behind your eyes, on the top of your head or at back of the head, near your neck. The pain can be in one spot or it can spread across a number of different areas.
Headaches can be caused by many different things, but they are not usually a sign of a serious condition. Often, over-the-counter painkillers should relieve it.
However, in rare occasions, they may be a symptom of an underlying problem, so if you have other symptoms along with your headaches, or they are affecting your day-to-day life, it is best to discuss it with a doctor.
There are some things that may make you more susceptible to headaches, these include if you:
- you are stressed
- don’t get enough sleep
- drink alcohol
- eat food that contain nitrates
- have a poor posture
- are dehydrated
- skip meals
If this is something you recognise in your life, tackling it should help get rid of your headaches.
The common symptoms of a headache include:
- A dull ache
- Pressure in your head
- A pounding or throbbing pain
- A sharp pain
- Eye pain when looking directly at bright light
- Tenderness in your scalp
- Feeling or being sick
When to see a doctor
While the majority of headaches will pass on their own, or be relieved with over-the-counter medications, there are things to watch out for.
For example, if your headaches are regular, or are interfering with your day to day activities, you should get checked out by a GP. Likewise, if over the counter painkillers do not work, or if the headaches gets worse despite taking painkillers, you should also see a GP.
It’s also best to get checked out if you have a headache along with nausea or vomiting, or if you have numbness in your arms or legs, or are overly sensitive to noise or light.
If your headache and/or accompanying symptoms are more severe, you should go to A&E or call 111.
Our GPs can see you over online video consultation, listen to your headache symptoms and offer advice and treatment if necessary.
There are many different types of headaches, caused by varying factors, from injury to serious health problems.
They usually fall into two categories; primary headaches and secondary headaches.
A primary headache is not normally a symptom of a health problem, whereas a secondary headache is the symptom of another condition.
A migraine headache can cause a severe throbbing or pounding pain, often on one side of your head, and may cause other symptoms, such as nausea and sensitivity to light.
A migraine can normally be treated with over the counter medications. However, if you get severe migraines, or regular ones, a doctor may prescribe stronger medication, or review any current medication that you are on. Learn more about migraines
Tension headaches don’t tend to last too long and will not usually keep you from carrying on as normal.
They can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers. Headaches in the back of head and neck, a sensation of a tightening around the head or a dull ache can all be symptoms of this type of headache.
These tend to happen in clusters, hence the name. They will then go into remission, where you will not suffer from any for a period of time.
They are rare and can last for week or even months before going into remission. They will often start in the middle of the night, and the pain can be quite intense around one eye.
A doctor will be able to give you prescribe a treatment to help deal with them. Over the counter painkillers won’t be effective.
A secondary headache is a symptom of something else and they are more worrying than primary ones.
It is more likely to be a secondary headache if the it is very sudden and severe, occurs after a head injury, it doesn’t go away or gets worse, if you have other symptoms, such as weakness or slurred speech, or if you have a fever, or other problems.
Causes for secondary headaches include:
- Head and neck trauma
- Sinus problems
- Blood clot or other blood vessel problem
- Brain tumour
- Ear infection
- High blood pressure
- Panic attacks
- Hormonal changes
- Certain medications
If you are concerned your headache may be caused by something more serious, speak to a doctor.
Updated: September 30, 2019