4 Tips for Managing Different Headaches

Most headaches clear up with rest or the help of an aspirin or other analgesic. Some of them may signal a more serious problem. Find out what kind of headaches you may be suffering from and how to treat them.

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1. The Most Common Headache

A tension, or muscle contraction, headache - generally experienced as a band of dull pain tightening around the head - is the kind most people suffer from. Stress, exhaustion, depression, or anxiety can bring one on, as can habitual poor posture. Aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen will usually provide relief. Sometimes, however, a tension headache can last for weeks or months and persist around the clock. In such a case, the remedy may rely in using relaxation techniques, taking antidepressants or tranquilizers, getting more sleep, or even going on a vacation.

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2. The Migraine Headache

The often severe vascular headaches known as migraines can last from several hours to several days. They produce a throbbing or pounding pain, generally on only one side of the head. Other symptoms may include icy hands, nausea or vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.

Some people know an attack is beginning they develop an "aura" - they may hear sounds and see flashing lights, jagged lines, and patches of darkness; they may also have tingling or numbness in their limbs, and their speech may be impaired.

While it is not totally clear what cause migraine headaches, heredity may play a part. Two-thirds of migraine victims have parents who have also had migraines.

If taken at the first sign of a migraine, aspirin with coffee or another source of caffeine may stop it. For people who are immobilized by an attack or who suffer more than three attacks a month, a daily dose of the beta blocker propranolol can act as a preventative, as can antidepressants and calcium channel blockers. Daily aspirin dose may be beneficial, too.

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3. Cluster Headaches

Occurring in groups over periods of time, as short as several days or as long as several months, cluster headaches are a type of vascular headache. A person may experience one to four piercing headaches in a single cluster daily for several weeks. The headaches are usually nocturnal and strike mostly in the spring and fall. Cluster headache victims seem to be especially sensitive to nicotine and alcohol, both of which can serve as triggers.

Drugs used to interrupt or prevent cluster headaches include lithium, ergotamine, cyproheptadine, methysergide, and steroids. During an attack, some people may benefit from oxygen therapy.

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4. Organically Caused Headaches

Although sometimes they may indicate medical conditions of varying seriousness, many organically caused headaches require only minor medical care or none at all. A caffeine withdrawal headache, for example, is "cured" with a caffeinated drink. A sinus headache caused by an allergy or a sinus infection is usually cleared up with the appropriate antihistamines, nasal decongestants, or antibiotics.

Bed rest, applied heat, and special exercises and massage can also help.