Migraine Headache Overview
A headache is a pain in the head, scalp, or neck. Not all headaches are alike. They range in intensity from mild to disabling. Moreover, headaches may be an occasional occurrence, chronic (15 or more days a month for several months), or recurring.
In 2004, the International Headache Society revised its classification of headaches into two major groups, those not caused by a medical problem and those that are:
Primary headachesPrimary headaches account for 90% of all headache complaints. These headaches are not caused by an underlying disease or medical condition. The three types of primary headaches are:
- Migraine headaches
Migraine headaches are pulsating or throbbing headaches that typically occur on one side of the head. Migraines are often recurring, and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and visual disturbances. This type of headache occurs most often in women (approximately 75%).
- Tension headaches
Tension headaches are caused by severe muscle contractions due to anxiety, stress, or exertion. These headaches may be recurring or chronic, and are the most common type of headache. Most people (approximately 90%) get a tension headache at some time.
- Cluster headaches
Cluster headaches are characterized by a severe pain that is centered by the eye or temple on one side of the head. This type of headache typically occurs at the same time each day for several weeks and then stops, only to recur again. Cluster headaches occur most often in men (approximately 85%).
Secondary headachesSecondary headaches account for the remaining 10% of all headache complaints. These headaches are caused by a disease or medical condition, such as:
- Brain tumor
- Dental disease
- Head trauma
- Sinus infection
Approximately 28 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches. Migraines may last for several days and may occur as often as once or twice a week.
Migraines often develop when people are exposed to a specific trigger, such as food, stress, or bright light. Some people are warned in advance that a migraine attack is about to occur by an aura (such as a visual disturbance, or a tingling sensation in an arm or leg).
Although there currently is no cure for migraine headaches, new treatment options enable people to experience fewer migraines and are more successful at stopping the pain if a migraine headache develops.