FAQs on Headaches and Treatment Options in Nashville & Murfreesboro TN

The National Headache Foundation reports that around 45 million Americans suffer with long-term, recurring headaches. This medical condition also affects children and adolescents, with a prevalence rate of 20% in this population. A headache is pain that occurs in any area of the head. Some headaches are sharp and throbbing, while others are dull and mild. Headaches can occur suddenly or come on gradually. The duration of a headache also varies, from a few minutes to several days.

What are the types of headaches?

The International Headache Society classifies 150 categories of headaches, which are considered as primary or secondary. Primary headaches are those that do not occur because of a medical condition, such as migraine, cluster, and tension headaches. Secondary headaches occur as the result of another disease or illness.

What are the most common kinds of headaches?

  • Tension headaches – This is the most common type of headache, and the pain tends to be mild, non-throbbing, and bilateral (both sides). Tension headaches do not worsen with regular activities, and they usually respond well to over-the-counter medications.
  • Migraine headaches – The second most common type of headache is migraine. These headaches are related to changes in the brain, and they have a genetic component. Migraines are severe, and last from 4 hours to 3 days.
  • Cluster headaches – The third primary headache is cluster headache, which is an intense pain that is described throbbing and constant. These headaches occur in cluster periods, and they are more common during the Spring and Fall. Men are more likely to have cluster headaches.

What causes headaches?

Headache pain occurs from signals interacting among the head blood vessels, nerves, and brain. People with headaches often have “triggers,” which are substances and events that bring on the pain. Common triggers are:

  • Certain foods
  • Exposure to allergens
  • Second-hand smoke
  • Strong chemical or perfume odors
  • Stress
  • Pollution
  • Weather changes
  • Fatigue
  • Bright lights
  • Alcohol
  • Emotional stress

How are headaches diagnosed?

The doctor will conduct a history and medical examination to rule out major diseases or conditions. Certain diagnostic tests can be ordered, such as a CT scan or MRI scan. In addition, an electroencephalogram is sometimes ordered.

How are headaches treated?

Depending on the type of headache, treatment modalities will vary. Options include:

  • Medications – For acute headache pain, triptans are used, such as Maxalt and Imitrex. Other migraine medications include Cafergot, Migergot, Ultram, and opioids. For associated symptoms of nausea and vomiting, antimetic agents can be used.
  • Botox – Botulinum toxin type A is a neurotoxin used for prevention of headaches. This agent produces paralysis of muscle tissue and blocks the release of acetylcholine from nerve cells. In a clinical trial, pericranial injection of Botox was proved to be effective for migraine headaches.
  • Acupuncture – A technique used in ancient China, acupuncture involves the insertion of small needles into the back of the neck. This relieves pain and stimulates the release of endorphins (feel-good chemicals that combat pain). Research shows that acupuncture works much better than placebo for treating headaches.
  • Occipital nerve block (ONB) – To alleviate occipital head pain, the doctor inserts a small needle into the scalp at the back of the head. An anesthetic is injected near the occipital nerves. Clinical researchers found this technique to reduce headache by 50%.

References

National Headache Foundation. Headache-Frequently Asked Questions.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke. Headache Information Page.

Palmisani, S, Al-Kaisy, A, Arcioni, R et al. (2013). A six year retrospective review of occipital nerve stimulation practice – controversies and challenges of an emerging technique for treating refractory headache syndromes. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 14 (67). doi:10.1186/1129-2377-14-67.

Ropper A.H. & Samuels M.A. (2009). Chapter 10. Headache and Other Craniofacial Pains. In A.H. Ropper, M.A. Samuels (Eds), Adams and Victor’s Principles of Neurology, 9e.

Siberstein, S, Mathew, N, Saper, J, & Jenkins, S (2000). Botulinum toxin type A as a migraine preventive treatment. BOTOX Migraine Clinical Research Group. Headache, 40(6), 445-450.