What to know about tension, migraine, cluster headaches, how to deal with them

13, Jun 2024

June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month.

Now is the time to learn about the headaches you can experience, the causes of migraines and overall treatment options.  

“Headache” describes pain in the scalp, head and neck.

There are many different types of headaches such as tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches.

Most people experience some form of headache during their life. 

Severe or recurring headaches can significantly impact daily life.

Tension headache

The most common type of headache is a tension headache. However, if you have tension headaches 15 days a month or more, you should consult your primary care provider.

Tension headaches are caused by tense muscles causing dull pressure around the head and neck, often due to anxiety, stress or depression.

Tension headaches may also be triggered by caffeine or caffeine withdrawal, alcohol, eyestrain and even sleep deprivation. Tension headaches typically can last from half an hour to a week. 

Occasional tension headaches can often be prevented by regular exercise, managing daily stress, getting enough sleep and maintaining good posture while seated.

Chronic tension-type headaches are typically treated with various techniques such as biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, and meditation.

Pain medications like Tylenol or ibuprofen can decrease pain. Muscle relaxers or prescription antidepressants are also used in some cases. 

Migraine headaches

While tension headaches are the most common, migraine headaches are what drive people to see their doctor. 

Migraine headaches are severe, recurring and often debilitating.

The exact cause of migraines is unknown. However, researchers believe that genetics plays a part.

Certain medical conditions, such as sleep disorders, epilepsy, anxiety and depression may increase the risk of migraines.

Several factors can trigger migraines. Caffeine is one of the more common triggers encountered.

Other common triggers include withdrawal from caffeine, emotional stress, hormonal changes in females, weather changes, odors, sleep deprivation, neck pain, alcohol, smoking, skipping meals, flashing or bright lights, loud noises, overexertion, chocolates, processed meats and fermented foods.

Migraines happen in four phases: prodrome, aura, headache and postdrome.

Cravings for specific foods, frequent urination and uncontrollable yawning may occur during prodrome that starts up to 24 hours before other migraine symptoms.

Then comes the second phase — aura — when you may see bright or flashing lights or zig-zag lines.

The headache phase begins slowly on one side of the head and increases in intensity, frequency and duration with throbbing pain.

Postdrome follows the headache phase that may last for a day, and you may feel weak or exhausted.  

Although there is no cure for migraines, there are steps you can take to help reduce symptoms.

Triptans and pain relievers may help relieve symptoms. Medication is most effective when taken as early as possible during a migraine.  

Staying in a dark, quiet room with eyes closed, placing icepacks on the forehead and drinking plenty of water may help with symptom relief.

Lifestyle changes like exercising regularly, having regular sleep, eating a balanced diet, scheduling and taking steps to manage daily stress are often helpful in preventing or decreasing the frequency of migraines.  

Some blood pressure medications, anti-seizure or antidepressant medications can reduce the frequency of migraines.

Botox injections have also been shown to help prevent migraines.

Some alternative therapies may also help prevent migraines, including massage therapy, biofeedback, cognitive-behavioral therapy and acupuncture. 

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches typically occur on one side almost daily and can last for weeks or months, separated by a month or more with no headaches.

Cluster headaches are more common in men. Risk factors include head trauma, family history and tobacco use.

Cluster headaches may be related to a sudden release of certain chemicals in the body, particularly near the trigeminal nerve.  

Cluster headache symptoms are sudden, one-sided headaches with drooping eyes, stuffy nose, watery eyes, swelling or redness on the same side as the pain.

The pain typically feels like a burning or sharp pain on the side of the face.  

Acute cluster headaches are often managed with anti-inflammatories, triptan medication or dihydroergotamine injections.

Long-term treatment or prevention includes antidepressants, corticosteroids and medicines for allergies, high blood pressure and seizures.

Proper recognition and avoidance of triggers are essential parts of managing cluster headaches.

If medications are ineffective, one surgical option is implanting a neurostimulator to send electrical signals to specific nerves. 

You must consult a doctor if you experience severe or recurrent headaches, especially if they interfere with your activities of daily living or quality of life.

Your doctor will help find the cause and formulate an appropriate treatment plan of your headaches.

Identifying and avoiding triggering factors, along with lifestyle modifications and appropriate medications as prescribed by your doctor, can help manage headaches effectively.

Maintaining a headache diary can help track and identify patterns.


Providing Quality Medical Care

Dr. Sue Mitra and her staff strive to offer their patients the best care, advice and services available in the medical field with the goal to keep patient healthy & happy.