Recognized Expertise for All Headache Conditions
When a headache becomes frequent, severe and disrupts a person’s quality of life, it’s important to seek medical attention. The physicians at UC Health Headache and Facial Pain Center specialize in uncovering headache causes and triggers. They are leaders in the field, speaking and teaching nationally and internationally, and conducting research to advance treatment.
Often patients seek the expertise at UC Health after they have been misdiagnosed or continue to have symptoms after treatment. This unique program makes it easy to access the best, most skilled experts to solve painful, persistent headaches.
The UC Health program looks at the whole body to uncover underlying conditions. Multiple factors may be contributing to pain. Often, there is not just one answer for a patient.
Types of Headaches
Identifying the type of headache a patient is experiencing is key to appropriate treatment and cure.
Over 28 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches, with over half of those estimated to be undiagnosed. They can be disabling. Migraines often cause people to miss work, family activities and a full life. Migraines are seen three to four times more often in women as men and often start during childhood.
The characteristics of migraines can include:
- Throbbing pain
- One-sided pain (present in 2/3 of cases)
- Moderate to severe pain, lasting as long as 72 hours
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Nausea and vomiting
- Visual change or distortion – seeing an aura, zigzag lines or blind spots (about 20 per cent of cases)
- Pins and needles, tingling sensation in one arm or leg
- Weakness on one side
All symptoms do not need to be present for the headache to be a migraine. An assessment will help determine migraine triggers, which can include a number of factors from diet and exercise to psychological issues.
Migraine exists in episodic (occasional) and chronic (continuing) forms, distinguished by the number of migraine headaches that a patient experiences.
Patients with chronic migraine have 15 days per month or more with a headache; with at least 8 days per month experiencing a headache that meets the criteria for a migraine. Patients with episodic migraine have less frequent attacks of migraine headache.
Chronic migraines may be challenging to treat and often require multiple interventions to achieve the best possible treatment results. These interventions might include lifestyle and dietary changes, weight loss, exercise, biofeedback and relaxation techniques, medical therapies, nerve blocks and nerve stimulators.
Migraine treatment can be both preventive, to stop the migraine before it starts, and abortive, treating a migraine attack in progress. Often, a combination of medications is needed to be effective. UC Health experts will determine a customized treatment approach to help a patient return to normal functioning as quickly as possible.
The so-called tension headache occurs in up to 35% of the population. Even though it is called “tension” headache this does not mean that stress or contraction of muscles in the head are the cause. Research suggests that these headaches result from an abnormality of pain processing by the brain.
Tension headaches generally occur on both sides of the head in the forehead, temples and back of the head. They have a mild to moderate pain intensity and are described as dull, squeezing or pressing. It is not uncommon for patients to have some attacks that are migraines and others that are tension headaches.
Tension headaches are treated successfully with over-the-counter medications like aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Rest, caffeine and withdrawal from the source of stress is also helpful. If the attacks are frequent, they can be treated with preventive medications such as antidepressants, muscle relaxers or anti-inflammatories.
Cluster headaches are one of the least common types of headaches, but also the most debilitating. They are characterized by intense pain. One of the most painful conditions known, someone with a cluster headache may pace or even beat his or her head. Men suffer more often from cluster headaches than women.
Cluster refers to the cyclical pattern of these headaches. They tend to occur with several clusters of headaches, followed by a period of remission. For example, a cluster patient may have 2-3 months of headaches in the fall of one year and then be headache free until the next year at that time when the headaches return. For other cluster headache patients, headaches may occur with clock-like regularity at exactly the same time each day. A patient may awaken at both 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM each day with these excruciating headaches.
In addition to severe pain, cluster headaches may have these symptoms:
- Usually one-sided
- Pain is localized behind the eyes, forehead or upper cheek and temple
- Tearing eyes, running of the nose and sweating on the same side as the headache
- The eyelid may swell or droop on the affected side
Cluster headaches do not usually involve an upset stomach or sensitivity to light associated with some migraines.
Medical treatment is effective in about 95 percent of cases, and often involves several therapies such as steroids, verapamil, triptans, seizure medications, oxygen and surgical interventions in patients with difficult cases. The experts at UC Health offer advanced medical management to resolve cluster headaches, as well as surgical options to find relief.
Pseudotumor Cerebri (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension)
Pseudotumor cerebri headaches can mimic a brain tumor. They are caused by an increase in the pressure of spinal fluid, which is the fluid the surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It is unknown whether the brain produces too much spinal fluid to increase the pressure or if there is a block in absorption of spinal fluid. This condition is first suspected either when a health professional looks in the back of your eye with an ophthalmoscope and notices swelling of the optic nerve or a spinal tap demonstrates increased pressures of spinal fluid.
This condition is sometimes mistaken for migraines. It’s seen most often in younger, obese women. The headaches are often located throughout the head and may worsen with bending over or lying down. They can disappear on their own, but it’s important to seek medical treatment early, since vision loss can occur if left untreated.
Pseudotumor cerebri is usually treated with medication, but sometimes surgery is needed.
Cervicogenic headaches involve referred pain from a neck or cervical disorder or injury.
Other Types of Headaches
Other types of headaches that can be diagnosed and treated at the UC Health Headaches and Facial Pain Center include:
- Hemicrania Continua
- Chronic Paroxysmal Hemicrania
- Intracranial Hypotension
- Rhinogenic Headaches
- Medication Overuse Headaches
- Exertional Headaches
- Hypnic Headaches
- Temporal Arteritis
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