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Symptoms. Headache

By Editorial Team (Y)
December 27, 2021
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Headache symptoms

Episodic Tension Headaches

In order to be classified as episodic tension headaches, these can occur no more often than 15 days per month. Some common tension headache symptoms associated with episodic tension headaches include:

  • Mild to moderate pain, described as pressure or throbbing
  • The pain is usually felt on the sides, front, or top of the head
  • The pain often occurs mid-day and comes on gradually
  • The pain may subside within an hour or last several days

Chronic Tension Headaches

These occur more frequently than 15 days per month, and the headache symptoms associated may include:

  • The pain is present constantly, although it may vary in severity throughout the day
  • The pain is located on the sides, front, or top of the head
  • The pain is intermittent over an extended period

Other symptoms associated with tension headaches, either chronic or episodic, may include:

  • Pain that is present upon awakening
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mild light sensitivity and noise sensitivity
  • Constantly feeling fatigued
  • Irritability
  • Generalized aching in the muscles

Cluster Headache Symptoms

Common symptoms of cluster headache include: 

  • Severe piercing or burning pain that is constant or throbs on one side of the head.
  • In some cases, the pain is felt behind one eye or around the eye. It does not change sides.
  • Each episode may only last from 30 to 90 minutes but then comes back later in the day.
  • These tend to occur at the same time each day or wake the individual up at the same time each night.

Sinus Headaches Symptoms

  • The continual pain felt deep in the bridge of the nose, the forehead, or in the cheekbones.
  • The pain is usually worse with straining or with movement.
  • Sinus headaches typically occur with other signs of sinus problems: a runny nose, fever, fullness in the ears, swelling or tenderness of the face.

Migraines symptoms

The migraines symptoms vary from one individual to the next. In addition, people often have a combination of symptoms that include:

  • Moderate to severe pain, which is often described as throbbing or pounding. The pain can move from one side to the other of the head or can affect the entire head
  • Sensitivity to noise, light, or smells
  • Blurry vision
  • Abdominal pain, stomach upset, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting
  • Intolerance to heat or cold
  • Paleness
  • Loss of energy
  • Dizziness
  • An aura (seeing bright lights or dots, wavy lines or blind spots)

Headache diagnosis

In order to diagnose headaches, your doctor will want to know some background medical information about you, including the history of your headaches. The questions you may be asked may include:

  • When did the headaches first begin, and how long have you had them
  • What kind of pain do you experience, one kind or many different types
  • How frequently does your pain occurs
  • If you know anything that causes the headaches to occur, for instance: foods, medications, situations
  • If any close relatives have migraines or head pain
  • If you have any symptoms between the episodes, and what they are
  • If your episodes have affected your school or job performance

Your doctor will also want to know specific facts about your headache pain, such as:

  • Its location
  • How it feels, for instance: throbbing, burning, band-like or vice-like
  • The severity of the pain: mild, moderate, or severe. Or you may be asked to rate your pain on a scale from 1 to 10
  • How long the pain lasts
  • If you have warning symptoms, or if the pain occurs suddenly with no other symptoms or aura (visual changes, bright lights, or blind spots)
  • When the pain occurs: a particular time of day or night
  • If other symptoms accompany the head pain: nausea, irritability, fatigue, light sensitivity
  • How often does the pain occur

After gathering information about the headache symptoms, your doctor will also need to know if you have been treated before and if you have ever taken any medications to treat headaches. This includes past and current medications, both prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.

After the physician obtains your history, a physical examination will be completed, including neurological tests. The doctor will be looking for indications of another illness that could be responsible for your head pain, such as:

  • Abnormalities in temperature, pulse, respiration, or blood pressure
  • Signs of infection
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Personality changes, confusion
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of energy, wanting to sleep all of the time
  • Muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling
  • Changes in speech
  • Problems with balance
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in vision (blurred or double vision or blind spots)

Some headache diagnosing methods used include scans to get a better look at what is going on from within, such as a CAT (Computerized Axial Tomography) scan, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagery), blood tests, and X-rays.

Certain disorders of the nerves or brain, such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, can also cause migraines and other pain in the head. Your doctor may order neurological tests to rule out diseases like these as possible causes for your pain. Neurological tests can also find other problems in your brain that may be causing your symptoms, such as:

  • Tumors
  • Infections in the brain
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Meningitis
  • Increased pressure within the brain
  • Blood clots
  • Injury or trauma to the head or the brain
  • Sinus disorders
  • Disorders of the blood vessels

There are many different ways to treat headaches, and the treatment that works well for one person may not be effective for someone else. However, most doctors agree that making lifestyle changes to reduce stress, avoiding triggers, and regular exercise are essential components of headache treatment.

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