A headache is pain anywhere in the head or neck caused by disturbance of the pain-sensitive structures around the brain. There are over 200 types of headaches which can be a symptom of a number of different conditions with causes ranging from harmless to life-threatening. Description of the headache, together with neurological findings, determines the need for further investigations and the most appropriate treatment.

  • Types of Headaches
    • Primary Headaches occur on their own with no detectable underlying cause
      • Migraine - pulsating in character, affecting one side of head, associated with nausea, can be disabling in severity, lasting 3 hours to 3 days
      • Trigeminal Neuralgia - a shooting pain in face
      • Tension - band-like or squeezing, does not worsen with routing activity, may be brought on by stress
      • Cluster - severe pains that occur together in bouts
    • Secondary Headaches are caused by an underlying condition or disease
      • Brian tumor
      • Stroke
      • Medication overuse
      • Head injury
  • Red Flag Symptoms - should be reported to a medical provider immediately
    • Sudden onset, new or different headache in someone over 50
    • Mental confusion and/or vision problems
    • Headache made worse by exertion, coughing or straining
    • Headaches in people with HIV, cancer or at risk for blood clot
    • Headache with fever, vomiting, weakness, or neck stiffness
  • Assessment is Key
    • Treatment of a headache depends on the underlying cause.
    • Not all headaches require medical attention and most respond with simple over the counter (OTC) analgesics such as acetaminophen, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • What Caregivers can do to help their loved one with a Headache
    • Gather a description your loved ones pain and report to provider as appropriate
    • Immediately contact a medical provider to report Red Flag Symptoms noted above
    • Encourage loved one to try OTC analgesic if Red Flag Symptoms are not present

PDF iconFAST FACTS - Caregivers: Headaches - PDF Version