Headache

FAQs

Do women get headaches more often than men do?

More women than men seek treatment for tension headaches. But that doesn't necessarily mean they suffer from these more frequently – it means they more readily seek treatment. Women get migraines more often than men do, but men are more prone to cluster headaches than women are

Is a tendency to get headaches hereditary?

Studies have shown that a child who has one parent who frequently gets headaches or migraines, has a 50% chance of having them. Where both parents get them, the risk of the child goes up to 75%. The bottom line is that most people who suffer from migraines, have a close family member who does too.

What is the difference between a headache and a migraine?

It is not always easy to distinguish between the two, as there may be an element of both muscle tension and a vascular component in both headaches and migraine. In many cases, migraines are more severe than headaches, and are often accompanied by visual disturbances or nausea. Normal headaches will often respond to over-the-counter medications, whereas migraine is often severe enough to require prescription medication.

What treatment is there for cluster headaches?

Cluster headache is a very painful form of headache, which most often affects men, these headaches appear to be localised in the eye, the temple, the forehead or the cheek region. The pain is severe and usually lasts 30 – 90 minutes. It is called a cluster headache, because it usually happens in a series or sequence of painful episodes – often at the same time of day, days, weeks or months apart. Its causes are thought to include heavy drinking and smoking. Treatment largely consists of prevention, but many different types of medication are used, from oxygen inhalation, to steroids to opioids, among others. Recurring cluster headaches must be treated by a doctor.

How does a doctor find out if something more serious is wrong?

A careful physical examination is done to check for clues to possible headache causes and also to check the nervous system. Those with tension-type, migraine or cluster headaches will usually have a normal physical test. The doctor will ask detailed questions regarding the patient's headache history. A CT (computed tomography) imaging test can be done, as well as a MRI ( magnetic resonance imaging tes and lastly a magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) imaging test. These will show up any tumour or other abnormality in the brain.

What are the common symptoms of a migraine?

The most common symptoms of migraine are a debilitating headache, often on one side of the head, nausea, digestive problems, neck or shoulder pain, visual disturbances (blind spots, tunnel vision and the seeing of flashing lights), ringing in ears, olfactory hallucinations, feeling cold, excessive sweating and mood changes. Many migraine sufferers can predict the onset of a migraine by the presence of one or more of these symptoms. Preventative steps can then be taken.

What should one do about children's headaches?

It looks as if headaches and allergies are more closely linked in children than in adults. Headaches could be a symptom of a childhood disease, or of an infection. Babies who have headaches often touch their heads or ears. Chronic headaches should be checked out by your GP. Also ask about the appropriate medication, as children respond differently to adults to different types of medication.

What are the different types of headaches?

Tension headaches are located in the area where the muscles of the neck and the head meet. Vascular headaches are the most severe and vary in their location, but are most often in the top half of the head. Organic headaches most often affect children and are often the result of infections in the sinus, ears, nose, brain, or because of brain tumours (less frequent).

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Ask the Expert

Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel - Founder and Medical Director - The Headache Clinic, (Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town) South Africa. The Headache Clinic is a multidisciplinary practice dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Primary Headaches and Migraines. Dr Shevel is also the main author of all scientific publications generated by his team. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon.

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