Headaches / migraines

Causes | Type of Headaches | Diagnosis | Treatment

Headaches are the most common cause of absenteeism from work and school according to the National Headache Foundation.  According to recent studies, more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches (70% of these are women), 28 million of these have reoccurring migraines.  On top of these figures, it is estimated that 20 million children and adolescents also suffer from headaches.  Because of these figures, it is easy to understand why headache treatment is so important.

What Causes Headaches?

Headaches can result from many different causes ranging from benign to severe.  Headache pain can involve blood vessels, nerves, muscles, and can also be due to things like a cold, fever, sinus infection, environmental chemicals (such as in new carpet or paint), hormones, or withdrawal from substances such as caffeine.  The level of pain associated with a headache does not always correspond to how serious the underlying cause is, so it is important to seek the advice from an expert, especially if you are experiencing a new headache, or if your headaches fail to improve.

Types of Headaches

There are many different types of headaches.

  • Migraines – these headaches tend to be moderate to severe and can last from hours to days.  The headache pain may be associated with other symptoms such as nausea, sensitivity to light, sound, or smells, and visual disturbances.  Migraines tend to recur, and can affect people several times per month or year.
  • Tension headaches – tension headaches result from tight muscles in the head, upper back, neck, and jaw.  They are the most common type of headache among adults and teens.
  • Cervicogenic headaches – these headaches are experienced as headache pain, but actually caused by a problem in the neck.
  • Cluster headaches – this type of headache is not very common, but the pain is very severe, sometimes described as piercing in quality.  They are called cluster headaches because they occur often (multiple times per day) during a cluster period, which can last weeks or months.
  • Sinus headaches – sinus headaches result from infection in the sinus cavities of the forehead, cheekbones, and nasal area.  They may be accompanied with pressure in the ears, nasal discharge, or fever.

Diagnosing Headache Pain

Due to the numerous types of headaches and possible causes, it is important that the headache is properly diagnosed.  A general health history and specific questions related to the headache pain are the main starting points.  An examination to check for signs of infection as well as muscle, nerve, and neck involvement will most likely be done.  The doctor may also order blood tests or diagnostic imaging such as X-ray, MRI, or CT scan.

Treating Headaches

Our caring team at SCU Health System can help patients get the treatment that best fits their individual needs.  Our team evaluates the best treatment options and educates our patients as to their choices so that they may make an informed decision and play a role in the treatment process.  Treatment options available at SCU include:

  • Acupuncture – clinical studies have shown acupuncture to be effective in treating certain types of headaches and decreasing headache pain.
  • Chiropractic Care – chiropractic techniques that address muscles and joints involved with some types of headaches can decrease the severity and frequency of headaches.
  • Physical Therapy Modalities/Procedures – these may include cold laser, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and therapeutic exercise.
  • Whole-Person Assessment – in some complex cases, factors such as diet, lifestyle, sleep, stress, insulin-sensitivity, gene-environment interactions, and hormone levels may interfere with a person’s ability to heal, and may need to be addressed.

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