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Health And Family

LIST: Different kinds of headaches, causes, basic treatment

Diana Uichanco - Philstar.com
LIST: Different kinds of headaches, causes, basic treatment
If what you’re experiencing is a case of either migraine or tension headache, you’re basically fine. What would be more cause for concern is if the headaches were attributed to secondary causes. What are those?
Carolina Heza via Unsplash

MANILA, Philippines — Pressured at work. Valued relationship gone sour. Wonky WiFi connection when it’s desperately needed. Household chores leaving no time for me-time. About four hours of slumber night after night. Zoom meetings day after day. Utility bills month after month.  

If any of these apply to your situation and you find yourself experiencing headaches regularly, it’s hardly surprising as these are all potential stressors. What you may be experiencing is called a tension-type headache and it’s the most common kind of headache worldwide, said neurology resident Dr. Jon Stewart Dy during a recent virtual forum on common neurologic disorders, organized by the Institute for Neurosciences of the St. Luke’s Medical Center. 

This condition can last from half an hour to as long as a week. If it’s the entire head that is experiencing pain, it’s most likely a tension-type headache (as opposed to a migraine, which is normally characterized by pain in only one side).

“Many describe it as feeling like their entire head is being wrung (“pinipiga”). It may be characterized by mild to moderate pain and can sometimes be accompanied by sensitivity to light and noise,” Dr. Dy explained during AnggULO: A lay forum on headache. “What may trigger these tension-type headaches? Stress, lack of sleep, agitation or pagkabalisa.”

Such episodes of head-tightening sensations can be agonizing; however, it should be good news if the pain you’re going through is due to primary causes, of which tension-type headache is one. Together with migraine, tension-type headaches are considered among the less dangerous conditions that involve head pain. In other words, if what you’re experiencing is a case of either migraine or tension headache, you’re basically fine. What would be more cause for concern is if the headaches were attributed to secondary causes. What are those? Either a brain tumor or a stroke.

Cause for more concern

“A headache due to a tumor worsens when one heaves or gasps because of the effort exerted,” Dr. Dy pointed out. “A person with a brain tumor rarely sleeps continuously during the night, and can already feel the headache upon waking up. Another thing is that the pain worsens with the years since the tumor increases in size.” 

In contrast, a headache caused by a stroke is usually sudden and severe, and becomes more intense in minutes or even seconds. If the stroke is caused by an aneurysm, there may be vomiting, accompanied by seizure or loss of consciousness. If the cause is high blood pressure, the person may experience numbness on one side of the body, slurred speech, and possibly loss of consciousness as well.

Headache diary

Much like various kinds of journaling have gained popularity in recent years and even became a recommended activity from some wellness coaches and counselors, Dr. Dy brought up a similar practice (though obviously not warranting, say, the intricate designs of a junk journal) that would prove helpful to both patient and doctor. He suggested keeping a headache diary since this is vital in managing — and treating — the condition, especially for people who have a history of headaches.

"List the date, time and duration of the headache, describe its features whether mild, moderate or severe, and what may have triggered it," the doctor said, adding that including any accompanying symptoms, medication taken, and how long it took before the headache was relieved would prove useful.

"We may discover causes and triggers, and we can thus avoid recurring headaches," he said. "Since we list medication and their effects, we  discover if the medication is suitable or if it needs to be changed."

It goes without saying that the onset of a headache can be remarkably disruptive — thinking straight is next to impossible when your head is throbbing every few seconds. Chances are, you’ve tried to remain 100 percent focused during an office meeting or as you chit-chatted with friends during a splitting headache at least once in your life. You know the struggle, so is it any wonder that many simply pop a paracetamol once the pain hits? The instant relief is precious in such instances; however, it is vital to determine what’s at the root of the headaches if they happen regularly. 

Dr. Dy included taking oral medication among temporary measures to address a headache, making sure to point out certain precautions.

“Paracetamol is the most common go-to for headaches. It can be taken every four to six hours, and 500mg is enough. But it’s important that you take no more than 4gms or 8 tablets each day. Otherwise, your liver can be damaged,” he cautioned. 

Ibuprofen and mefenamic acid are relatively safe to use as well, according to the doctor, as long as one pays attention to the frequency and duration of use. 

“It should not be taken on an empty stomach since it may cause hyperacidity or bleeding of the stomach, he pointed out. “It may also damage the kidneys especially if taken for long periods of time.”

RELATED: Not just a ‘headache’: 1 in 3 migraine sufferers develop depression

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