Managing migraines and headaches

Are headaches keeping you from doing the things you love? Here are few of the most common types of headaches. Learn what they are and how to identify them and put headache pain in the past.

The Tension Headache

The most common kind of a headache — a tension headache — is the dull pressure you might feel after a long day hunched over your computer or if you skip a meal.

“Usually these aren’t as severe as a migraine,” said Chaouki Khoury, MD, medical director of the Headache Center at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

“[These are] typically caused by things like stress, hunger or dehydration. They are easily treated with an over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen.”

What you can do about it

To avoid this nagging pain, Dr. Khoury recommends adopting techniques to deal with stress, such as yoga and deep breathing, eating regular meals, and staying hydrated. “Don’t let yourself get starving or thirsty,” he said.

The Migraine

More than 37 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches, which can be severe and debilitating. Besides the moderate-to-severe throbbing or pulsing in your head, other symptoms can include sensitivity to light, noise, smell, movement and temperature, as well as gastrointestinal issues, such as vomiting, diarrhea and constipation.

“Typically, when someone is having a migraine attack, the first response is to want to lie down in a cool, dark room, away from all the stimulus,” Dr. Khoury said.

The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although genetics do play a role.

“If your parents suffered from migraines, you have a significantly higher likelihood of developing migraines, as compared to someone whose parents do not have migraines.

The exact genetics of migraines are just now being elucidated, and there is still a lot we do know about migraine genetics,” Dr. Khoury said.

What you can do about it

A variety of medications are aimed at stopping headaches before they even start.

“Preventative medications are not a pain pill. They won’t treat an attack that has already started, but when taken correctly, they can help ward one off.”

But for most people, medication alone isn’t enough.

“Prevention is a twofold combination of lifestyle and medications,” Dr. Khoury said. “It is important for patients to be able to identify their triggers and avoid them, if possible.”

Common triggers include stress, dehydration, caffeine, hunger, lack of sleep, diet and weather changes.

The Cluster Headache

This form of headache gets its name from the way it appears: in clusters.

“These headaches won’t happen for months, but when they do come on, they come in bunches,” Dr. Khoury said.

While the cluster is a rare form of headache, it is one of the most severe.

“It involves unilateral pain around one eye, often described as a stabbing pain,” Dr. Khoury said. “Your eye may tear up, and you may have swelling of your face on the same side as the headache.”

What you can do about it

These are typically a seasonal headache, so it’s important to be on regular medication to prevent them. Alcohol is also a major trigger, so be careful with your consumption, Dr. Khoury advises.

The Headache Center’s inpatient treatment program may be able to help you overcome your pain. To learn more, visit BaylorHealth.com/HeadacheCenter today.

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Managing migraines and headaches