What are the Causes of Headache and How to Treat Headache ?

When a bad headache strikes, you just want it to end. The aching, throbbing pain can be debilitating and result in missed appointments, work, or time with family and friends.

Your headache symptoms can help your doctor determine its cause and the appropriate treatment. Most headaches aren’t the result of a serious illness, but some may result from a life-threatening condition requiring emergency care.

Headaches are generally classified by cause:

Primary headaches

A primary headache is caused by overactivity of or problems with pain-sensitive structures in your head. A primary headache isn’t a symptom of an underlying disease.

Chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull, or the muscles of your head and neck (or some combination of these factors) can play a role in primary headaches. Some people may also carry genes that make them more likely to develop such headaches.

The most common primary headaches are:

  1. Cluster headache
  2. Migraine
  3. Migraine with aura
  4. Tension headache
  5. Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia (TAC), such as cluster headache and paroxysmal hemicrania

A few headache patterns also are generally considered types of primary headache, but are less common. These headaches have distinct features, such as an unusual duration or pain associated with a certain activity.

Although generally considered primary, each could be a symptom of an underlying disease. They include:

  1. Chronic daily headaches (for example, chronic migraine, chronic tension-type headache, or hemicranias continua)
  2. Cough headaches
  3. Exercise headaches
  4. Sex headaches

Some primary headaches can be triggered by lifestyle factors, including:

  1. Alcohol, particularly red wine
  2. Certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates
  3. Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
  4. Poor posture
  5. Skipped meals
  6. Stress

Secondary headaches

A secondary headache is a symptom of a disease that can activate the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. Any number of conditions — varying greatly in severity — may cause secondary headaches.

Possible causes of secondary headaches include:

  1. Acute sinusitis (nasal and sinus infection)
  2. Arterial tears (carotid or vertebral dissections)
  3. Blood clot (venous thrombosis) within the brain — separate from stroke
  4. Brain aneurysm (a bulge in an artery in your brain)
  5. Brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation) (arteriovenous malformation) — an abnormal formation of brain blood vessels
  6. Brain tumor
  7. Carbon monoxide poisoning
  8. Chiari malformation (structural problem at the base of your skull)
  9. Concussion
  10. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  11. Dehydration
  12. Dental problems
  13. Ear infection (middle ear)
  14. Encephalitis (brain inflammation)
  15. Giant cell arteritis (inflammation of the lining of the arteries)
  16. Glaucoma (acute angle closure glaucoma)
  17. Hangovers
  18. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  19. Influenza (flu) and other febrile (fever) illnesses
  20. Intracranial hematoma
  21. Medications to treat other disorders
  22. Meningitis
  23. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  24. Overuse of pain medication
  25. Panic attacks and panic disorder
  26. Persistent post-concussive symptoms (Post-concussion syndrome)
  27. Pressure from tight headgear, such as a helmet or goggles
  28. Pseudotumor cerebri
  29. Stroke
  30. Toxoplasmosis
  31. Trigeminal neuralgia (as well as other neuralgias, all involving irritation of certain nerves connecting the face and brain)

Some types of secondary headaches include:

  1. External compression headaches (a result of pressure-causing headgear)
  2. Ice cream headaches (commonly called brain freeze)
  3. Medication overuse headaches (caused by overuse of pain medication)
  4. Sinus headaches (caused by inflammation and congestion in sinus cavities)
  5. Spinal headaches (caused by low pressure or volume of cerebrospinal fluid, possibly the result of spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak, spinal tap or spinal anesthesia)
  6. Thunderclap headaches (a group of disorders that involves sudden, severe headaches with multiple causes)

Regardless of whether you are prone to migraines, tension headaches, or cluster headaches (see “Is this your headache?”), you may be able to reduce their frequency by identifying what brings them on. Here’s a look at the most common triggers for each of these kinds of headaches.

1. Stress. Stress can cause tight muscles in the shoulders and neck, which often leads to tension headaches. “It’s believed to start in the muscles. When tension headaches become frequent, the pain in shoulder and neck muscles is felt by the brain as pain in the head,” says Dr. Sait Ashina, a neurologist who specializes in headache treatment at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Stress is also a common trigger for migraines.

2. Diet. Hunger itself can trigger a migraine or tension headache. But eating certain foods may trigger migraines. It could be just one type of food — like beans or nuts — or many foods, such as avocados, bananas, cheese, chocolate, citrus, herring, dairy products, and onions. “Processed foods with nitrites, nitrates, yellow food dyes, or monosodium glutamate can be especially problematic,” Dr. Ashina notes.

3. Alcohol intake. Alcohol is a common cause of migraine and cluster headaches. For some people, a few ounces of red wine are all it takes to provoke a headache, although any kind of alcohol can be a trigger. It’s not clear if the alcohol itself is to blame or if another component in the drink causes the problem.

4. Environment. “Cluster headaches seem to be seasonal and often happen in the spring or fall,” Dr. Ashina says. “It’s something in the environment, but we can’t tell exactly what it is yet.” Environmental factors such as bright light, smoke, humidity, intense scents, or cold weather are associated with migraine headaches.

5. Hormones. Changes in estrogen levels are associated with migraines in women, and women suffer from migraines more often than men. Menstrual cycles may be tied to migraine in younger women. Varying estrogen levels during perimenopause can sometimes start migraines in women who never experienced them before. Estrogen therapy may also be a migraine trigger. Menopause does seem to end migraines in most women.

6. Caffeine withdrawal. If you normally consume caffeine in coffee or tea, stopping intake abruptly may trigger a migraine. This may be because caffeine causes blood vessels to constrict; without caffeine, the blood vessels widen and bulge out with each heartbeat — a chief reason for the pounding pain of migraines.

7. Lack of sleep. A lack of sleep is associated with migraines and tension headaches. “We don’t know why, but we do know there’s a correlation and that sleep can lead to pain relief. Sometimes people feel better after taking a nap,” Dr. Ashina says.

How to Treat Headaches ?

Your head hurts. Again. The first step in foiling your frequent headaches is determining what type of headache you have. Sometimes headaches are a symptom of another disease or condition; sometimes there’s no clear cause.

Take a close look at your headache signs and symptoms. Keeping a headache diary might help determine your headache type. Note when your headaches occur, your symptoms, and potential triggers, such as food, stress or changes in sleep.

There are many types and sub-types of headaches. Chronic daily headaches, which occur 15 days or more a month, are one sub-type. Tension-type headaches and migraines are also common sub-types of headaches. They can both be chronic, though they aren’t always. Other types of chronic daily headaches include:

  • Hemicrania continua, a one-sided headache that can feel like a migraine
  • Primary stabbing headaches, which last for a few seconds and can occur several times throughout the day
  • Primary exertional headaches, caused by exercise
  • Chronic paroxysmal hemicranias, sharp, one-sided headaches that can cause tearing or a congested nose
  • Medication overuse headaches, which occur from overusing pain medications for headaches for at least three months. These headaches occur at least 15 days out of the month.

Other headache types include:

  • Cluster headaches, which cause severe pain on one side of the head and occur off and on for weeks over the course of a few months. Cluster headaches are associated with one or more signs and symptoms, such as tearing, nasal congestion and nasal discharge. These occur on the same side as the pain.

Tension-type headaches

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Tension-type headaches, the most common variety of headaches:

    • Might be felt as a tight band of pain around your head, a dull ache or pressure
    • Might cause mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head
    • Vary widely in frequency
      • Can be occasional
      • May occur more than 15 days a month (chronic)
  • Last from 30 minutes to a week

Headache Treatment

Most occasional tension-type headaches are easily treated with over-the-counter medications, including:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others)
  • Fioricet

Daily prescription medications, including tricyclic antidepressants, might manage chronic tension-type headaches. Alternative therapies aimed at stress reduction might help. They include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture

Migraines

Migraines are another common type of headache. They affect three times more women than men. Migraines typically:

  • Cause pain that is moderate to severe
  • Pulsate
  • Cause nausea, vomiting, or increased sensitivity to light or sound
  • Affect only one side of your head, but can affect both sides
  • Worsen with activity such as climbing steps
  • Last from four to 72 hours without treatment

Treatment

Migraine treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and preventing additional attacks. If you know what triggers your migraines, avoiding those triggers and learning how to manage them can help prevent migraines or lessen the pain. Treatment might include:

  • Rest in a quiet, dark room
  • Hot or cold compresses to your head or neck
  • Massage and small amounts of caffeine
  • Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and aspirin
  • Prescription medications including triptans, such as sumatriptan (Imitrex) and zolmitriptan (Zomig)
  • Preventive medications such as metoprolol (Lopressor), propranolol (Innopran, Inderal, others), amitriptyline, divalproex (Depakote), topiramate (Qudexy XR, Trokendi XR ,Topamax) or erenumab-aooe (Aimovig)

Recognize emergency symptoms

Seek emergency care if you have:

  • A very severe, sudden headache
  • Headache after a head injury or fall
  • Fever, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking
  • Pain that worsens despite treatment

These symptoms suggest a more serious condition, so it’s important to get a prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Take control

Almost everyone gets headaches, and many are nothing to worry about. But if headaches are disrupting your activities, work or personal life, it’s time to see your doctor. Headaches can’t always be prevented, but your doctor can help you manage the symptoms.

Gabapentin for Migraine Prevention

Gabapentin is a drug that’s approved to help prevent seizures in people with epilepsy and treat nerve pain from shingles. It’s also sometimes used off-label for migraine prevention.

Gabapentin belongs to a class of drugs called anticonvulsants. A class of drugs is a group of medications that work in a similar way.

Anticonvulsants help calm nerve impulses. It’s believed that this action may help prevent migraine pain.

This drug comes as a capsule, tablet, or solution. You take it by mouth.

Gabapentin is available as the brand-name drugs Neurontin, Gralise, and Horizant. It’s also available as a generic drug.

Off-label Gabapentin drug use for Migraine

Using a drug off-label means that a drug has been approved by the FDA for one purpose, and it’s being used for a different purpose that hasn’t been approved. A doctor can still prescribe it for this purpose because the FDA regulates the testing and approval of drugs, not how doctors use them to treat their patients. Your doctor can prescribe a drug off-label if they think it’s best for your care.

How gabapentin works to prevent migraine attacks

Gabapentin’s role in migraine prevention isn’t well known.

It’s believed that it may influence electrical activity in the brain through neurotransmitters and block calcium channels. It may also be a factor in reducing excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate.

Still, more research needs to be done to determine why it works.

Generally, gabapentin isn’t used as a primary therapy for migraine prevention, but as an additional treatment to support other therapies.

The drugs used to prevent migraine attacks are different from drugs that treat an acute attack. Drugs that prevent migraine symptoms, such as gabapentin, must be taken on an ongoing basis to work properly.img-banner - blankpixel_rickett_hl_middle_2854

Gabapentin dosage information for migraine

The dosage for gabapentin for migraine ranges from 300 to 3,600 milligrams (mg) per day, depending on your age and other health factors.

Gabapentin for migraine prevention can be taken with or without food and comes in an extended release tablet, an immediate release tablet, or an oral solution.

Side effects of gabapentin include:

  • vision changes such as blurred vision
  • unusual eye movements
  • ataxia (loss of coordination)
  • swelling in the limbs or feet

It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations on dosage and weaning off of the medication if needed. Never take more than is recommended by your doctor, even if you miss a dose.

 

How to Use Fioricet and What is the Dosage of Fioricet ?

Fioricet is a prescription pain medicine used to treat the symptoms of tension headache. Fioricet may be used alone or with other medications.

Fioricet is an analgesic barbiturate combo.

It is not known if Fioricet is safe and effective in children younger than 12 years of age.

Take this medication by mouth with or without food as directed by your doctor, usually every 4 hours as needed.

If you are using the liquid form of this medication, carefully measure the dose using a special measuring device/spoon. Do not use a household spoon because you may not get the correct dose.

The dosage is based on your medical condition, age, and response to treatment. This medication works best if it is used as the first signs of a headache occur. If you wait until the headache has worsened, the medication may not work as well.

If you suddenly stop using this medication, you may have withdrawal symptoms (such as nausea/vomiting, mental/mood changes, seizures). To help prevent withdrawal, your doctor may lower your dose slowly. Withdrawal is more likely if you have used this medication for a long time or in high doses. Tell your doctor or pharmacist right away if you have withdrawal.

Though it helps many people, this medication may sometimes cause addiction. This risk may be higher if you have a substance use disorder (such as overuse of or addiction to drugs/alcohol). Take this medication exactly as prescribed to lower the risk of addiction. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for more details.

Tell your doctor if you notice increased use of this medication, a worsening of headaches, an increase in the number of headaches, the medication not working as well, or use of this medication for more than 2 headache episodes a week. Do not take more than recommended. Your doctor may need to change your medication and/or add a separate medication to prevent the headaches.

The dose of this medicine will be different for different patients. Follow your doctor’s orders or the directions on the label. The following information includes only the average doses of this medicine. If your dose is different, do not change it unless your doctor tells you to do so.

The amount of medicine that you take depends on the strength of the medicine. Also, the number of doses you take each day, the time allowed between doses, and the length of time you take the medicine depend on the medical problem for which you are using the medicine.

  • For oral dosage forms (capsules or tablets):
    • For tension headaches:
      • Adults and children 12 years of age and older—One or two capsules or tablets every 4 hours as needed. However, the dose is usually not more than 6 capsules or tablets per day. Do not exceed 4 grams (4000 milligrams) of acetaminophen (Tylenol®) per day.
      • Children younger than 12 years of age—Use and dose must be determined by your doctor.

Missed Dose

If you miss a dose of this medicine, take it as soon as possible. However, if it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and go back to your regular dosing schedule. Do not double doses.

Use & Storage

Store the medicine in a closed container at room temperature, away from heat, moisture, and direct light. Keep from freezing.

Keep out of the reach of children.

Do not keep outdated medicine or medicine no longer needed.

Ask your healthcare professional how you should dispose of any medicine you do not use.