Headaches inflict their misery in a variety of ways. Some start from a dull, steady ache maybe in the back of the head, maybe on the top of the head or maybe it is just a pain on the left or right side of the head. Others go straight to a blinding, throbbing pain. Nearly everyone has headaches at least now and then, but an unfortunate few experience near-frequent head pain. Common headache types include tension headaches, cluster headaches, rebound headaches, sinus headaches, and migraine.
There are a number of treatment strategies that work best for each type of headache. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen do the trick for many people. Others need muscle relaxants or even stronger medicines. Some find relief from self-help and alternative techniques like acupuncture.
Instead of waiting to be blindsided by another sudden or pounding headache, preventive strategies can be taken, such as using stress management, physical therapy, or exercise in tandem with medications. Another aspect of prevention is learning to recognize and change things that may trigger your headaches — like reducing emotional stress, changing your diet, or getting more sleep. Advances in the medical management of headache mean that relief is no longer just possible, but probable. Although some form of head pain will occasionally visit most people, no one should have to live and suffer with headaches.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. These headaches are not caused by disease. They are often considered to be "normal" headaches. Other names for tension headaches are ordinary headaches, muscle tension headaches, and stress headaches.
The International Headache Society has suggested that doctors use the term tension-type headaches because so many different names have been used for tension headaches. Typically tension-type headache causes mild to moderate pain, usually on both sides of the head. There is a pressing or tightening sensation. It is not pulsating and is not accompanied by nausea. The headache does not get worse with routine physical activity.
Cluster headaches are very intense headaches. They usually start in the area around one eye, then spread to nearby areas of the face. Each headache lasts about a half-hour to three hours. Episodes can occur several times over 24 hours (in clusters). This happens daily, lasting several weeks to months.
Most cluster headaches occur at night. This condition affects men much more frequently than women. Some people discover they have "triggers" that start the headache, such as:
Certain foods, especially those with high amounts of nitrites (bacon for example)
Hot weather or hot showers and baths
On average, people experience one to three headache episodes daily for four to eight weeks. Once a cluster of episodes ends, the person may remain headache-free for months or years.
The cause of cluster headaches is unknown. They may be related to a temporary imbalance of brain chemicals.
Smartphones and tablet computers are making it easier to get health care information, advice, and reminders on an anywhere-and-anytime basis. Hundreds of health and medical apps for smartphones like the iPhone became available this year. Some are just for fun. Others provide useful information (calorie counters, first aid and CPR instructions) or perform calculations. Even the federal government is getting into the act: the app store it opened this summer has several free health-related apps, including one called My Dietary Supplements for keeping track of vitamins and supplements and another one from the Environmental Protection Agency that allows you to check the UV index and air quality wherever you are. Smartphones are also being used with at-home monitoring devices; for example, glucose meters have been developed thatsend blood sugar readings wirelessly to an app on a smartphone. The number of doctors using apps and mobile devices is increasing, a trend that is likely to accelerate as electronic health records become more common. Check out iMedicalapps if you want to see the apps your doctor might be using or talking about. It has become a popular Web site for commentary and critiques of medical apps for doctors and medical students. Meanwhile, the FDA is wrestling with the issue of how tightly it should regulate medical apps. Some adverse events resulting from programming errors have been reported to the agency. Medical apps are part of a larger "e-health" trend toward delivering health care reminders and advice remotely with the help of computers and phones of all types. These phone services are being used in combination with increasingly sophisticated at-home monitoring devices. Research results have been mixed. Simple, low-cost text messages have been shown to be effective in getting people wear sunscreen. But one study published this year found that regular telephone contact and at-home monitoring of heart failure patients had no effect on hospitalizations of death from any cause over a six-month period. Another study found that remote monitoring did lower hospital readmission rates among heart failure patients, although the difference between remote monitoring and regular care didn't reach statistical significance.
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What exactly happens when I eat something cold and get an ice-cream headache? Is it harmful in any way?