There are many types of headache. The most frequent are tension headaches and migraines.
Tension headaches are benign but may have a significant impact on your quality of life. This type of headache tends to affect both sides of the head and feels like pressure caused by wearing a helmet, most often in the neck and temples. These headaches may come on in episodes which can last between 30 minutes and several days. They may also become chronic. People who suffer from this type of headache often also experience muscle tension in the head or neck.
The second most common cause for headaches is migraine. The pain can last for between a few hours and three days. Migraine pain is often felt on one side of the head only and feels like pounding which is made worse by effort and light. You may also feel nauseous due to the migraine.
There are many causes for headaches: stress, fatigue, alcohol, a lack of sleep, muscle tension in the head and neck, eyesight problems and, for women, hormone fluctuation during the menstrual cycle. There are also more serious causes, that are fortunately quite rare, but which require evaluation by your general practitioner.
Anybody who suffers from headaches should try to understand the underlying causes for the headaches in order to try and correct them.
As a broad outline, there are two types of treatment for headaches. The first is to prevent the headache by tackling the reason behind it, if the underlying cause can be identified. Somebody who suffers from migraines related to stress should, for example, try some relaxation exercises.
The second method to relieve headaches involves pain relief medicine of course. The most frequently used medicines are Paracetamol (Dafalgan, Panadol, etc.) and “anti-inflammatories” such as ibuprofen. If you suffer from migraines, your doctor may also prescribe medicine to combat nausea (Domperidone, Motilium). Warning! Pregnant women should not take anti-inflammatories.
How can I prevent headaches?
It’s not always easy… As mentioned above, it is important to try to understand the factors which trigger headaches in each individual. One person may be prone to several causes for headaches, but identifying them makes for better prevention: drinking enough (1.5 to 2 litres of water or unsweetened drinks per day), eating well, reducing or stopping alcohol consumption, relaxing, sleeping enough, etc.
People who frequently suffer from headaches should be careful to not take medicine too often. Taking pain relief medicine on a regular basis can actually trigger headaches.
In some cases, you may be advised to see a doctor: headaches which differ from what you normally experience, headaches which don’t improve after taking medicine, after an impact to the head, headaches with fever or related to high blood pressure, etc.
You can find further information on tension headaches and migraines on the website of the World Health Organisation. For more information on migraines specificially, you can check the Planète santé website or watch an information video on the CHUV’s Medical Atlas.