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How to Map Your Headaches: Linking The Location And Cause
We have all experienced a headache at some point in our lives. And although we may be familiar with the warning signs, the actual cause is often left unsolved, leaving us to ask ourselves, “was it too much coffee?”, “or perhaps too little coffee?”, “or maybe this one means I should take a trip to the doctor?”
And while we can sometimes backtrack to the tequila shot and three-hour sleep that might be held responsible, other times pinpointing the source can prove to be a little trickier.
The Cleveland Clinic reports that there are over 150 different types of headaches, divided into two categories: primary and secondary. And to make things even trickier, primary headaches aren't caused by any other illness, which means blood tests and imaging studies can't be used to diagnose them. We can, however, break these down into three broader categories to gain insight into exactly what each one feels like, where they are located and what triggers them.
The three types of headaches:
Generally speaking, there are three basic types of headaches: tension, migraine and cluster.
Tension headaches: The most common form of headache. A tension headache can be described as a dull, mild or tight sensation across both sides of the head. As the name implies, this form of headache is often triggered by tension and stress. The best way to avoid these altogether? Remain calm. Meditation, yoga, or just indulging in some peaceful time out is a simple way to minimise the onset of these headaches.
Migraines: Those who suffer from migraines can experience debilitating pain that may render them bedridden anywhere between four hours to days at a time. Migraines manifest on one side of your head and tend to be exacerbated by vigorous physical activity or stimulation of the senses. As a consequence, you may experience nausea, irritability, and, in more severe cases, difficulty speaking and seeing.
Cluster headaches: Has your migraine been hanging around for weeks? Well, it’s probably a cluster headache. Known as one of the most painful headaches, cluster headaches occur in cyclical intervals or cluster periods (hence the name). Often waking people up in the middle of the night, the intense pain can radiate to the head, neck, and face, often appearing behind or around the eye. Other symptoms include pale skin, swelling or drooping of the eye, excessive tearing and restlessness. A relatively rare and non-life-threatening condition, cluster periods often occur at the same time every day, usually one to two hours before bed.
Here are some of the different ways the location of your headache can be used to determine the cause...
Dull pain in the temples: teeth clenching
Back of the head: related to neck tension or a cervical spine issue, resulting from muscle spasms and poor posture
Sharp shooting pain in the back of the head: nerve irritation
Behind the eyes: a symptom of infection in the sinus cavity
Side of the head migraines: hormones, diet, caffeine or stress
Top of the head: change in diet, poor sleep habits, activity or stress
In most cases, headache pain does not indicate an underlying disease. However, headaches can occasionally be a sign of underlying conditions, such as a brain tumour or a ruptured blood vessel (aneurysm). Therefore, monitoring frequency and severity, and identifying triggers, locations and symptoms is crucial.