Pain in any region of the head is called a headache. It may involve one or both sides of the head and may radiate to the neck and shoulders. You may experience dull pressure, a throbbing sensation or sharp pain that may last anywhere between an hour to days. In some cases, it may indicate a serious underlying disease.
Headaches are broadly classified into 2 types:
- Primary headaches are caused by stress, anxiety or certain triggers. They occur due to an overactive pain-sensitive region in the head and are not associated with any other condition. Common primary headaches can include tension headaches (result from tight muscles in the neck, scalp and shoulders), migraine (throbbing pain in one side of the head) and cluster headache (occurs in patterns or clusters).
- Secondary headaches may be described as a symptom of another condition such as ear infections, sinusitis, dehydration, panic attacks, meningitis (inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord) and concussion (brain injury), which may trigger the pain-sensitive region in the head.
If your headaches are severe and occur frequently it is necessary to contact your doctor who will perform a detailed exam of your head, ears, eyes, nose, neck, throat and nervous system, and question you about your symptoms and lifestyle to identify any triggers or underlying disease. A CT or MRI scan and blood tests may be ordered. A lumbar puncture that studies the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal canal may be helpful in diagnosing infections.
To treat tension headaches your doctor may prescribe pain medications. Medication may be provided for other symptoms such as nausea. For secondary headaches, treatment is focused on the associated condition. Your doctor may also recommend other ways of managing headaches, such as massage, relaxation therapy and avoiding triggers.