FAST FACTS: Headache



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 several 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 Healthcare 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 Headache
    • Write down and share information about your loved one’s pain with their provider
    • Use a Pain Diary to note important information useful to the provider
    • Encourage your loved one to try a non-drug treatment to decrease minor pain

Revised 3/2020

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