Headache

Updated 10 February 2016

What is a headache?

A headache (cephalagia) is a pain in the head that may manifest above the eyes or ears, at the back of the head or at the base of the skull. Almost everyone suffers from a headache from time to time.

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Most people don't get headaches very often, but around 15% of the population are affected so badly that they have to consult a doctor. In fact, headache is the most common cause of pain that prompts patients to consult their GP. In adults, headaches are four times more prevalent in women and often linked to hormonal fluctuations.

A headache (cephalagia) is a pain in the head that may manifest above the eyes or ears, at the back of the head or at the base of the skull. Almost everyone suffers from a headache from time to time. In fact, 80-90% of people globally are affected by headaches every year.

Most headaches are primary headaches, which means that they are not associated with any other disease. Secondary headaches may have a number of causes – from brain tumours and meningitis, to harmless conditions like caffeine withdrawal.

The majority of headaches are infrequent and transient annoyances that disappear with the help of an analgesic or other painkiller. But for one person in ten, a headache is an excruciating experience that might herald some serious disorder.

Types of headaches

There are a number of different types of primary headaches, including cluster headaches, migraines and tension headaches, which are the most common kind.

Different parts of the head and face may be affected by headaches, depending on the type or cause.

When a headache is unbearable, frequent or accompanied by other symptoms it warrants a visit to a medical professional for further investigation.

Read more: 

Causes of headaches  

Preventing headaches  

Diagnosing headaches

Reviewed by Dr Elliot Shevel, BDS, Dip MFOS, MB, BCh, Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon and Medical Director, The Headache Clinic, Johannesburg and Cape Town, February 2015. 

Previously reviewed by Dr Andrew Rose-Innes, MD, Department of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven

 

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Headache expert

Dr Elliot Shevel is a South African migraine surgery pioneer and the founder and medical director of The Headache Clinic in Johannesburg, Durban and 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. He recently won a high level science debate in which he was able to prove that the current migraine diagnosis and classification is not based on data. Tertiary Education - Dr Shevel holds both Dental and Medical degrees, and practises as a specialist Maxillo-facial and Oral Surgeon. Follow the Headache Clinic on Twitter@HeadacheClinic.

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