Practically everyone knows the pain of a headache. In fact, 7 out of 10 Americans have experienced at least one headache in the past year, and 45 million Americans have chronic headaches. Headaches may cost you time, affect your quality of life, or even point to a more serious condition.
What is a headache?
Headaches are often subjective experiences, characterized by pain felt in the head. However, headaches do not occur from the bones or brain tissues itself, both of which lack pain-receptors. Instead, headaches occur from the nerves located in the facial organs (eyes, tongue, etc.) that run through the scalp of the head. The nerve receptors that sense pain, called nociceptors, can be triggered by tension, stress, hormones, dilated blood vessels, etc.
Types of headaches
Headaches come in all shapes and sizes. Some headaches may occur from activities as varied as exercise, coughing or sex, for examples. Other headaches are caused by caffeine withdrawal, or low blood sugar. But because a headache experience by one person varies from another, and because a headache occurs for different reasons, it may be useful to take a look at the different types of headaches. Headaches are categorized into four distinct types.
1. Inflammatory - Inflammatory headaches usually point to a more serious condition, such as infections (e.g. meningitis or sinus infections).
2. Muscle contraction (tension) - Approximately 75% of all headaches are tension headaches. Stress or poor posture can cause the muscles in the neck and scalp to tense up and create a tension headache. Noise and stuffy environments aggravate these types of headaches. Women are more likely to have this type of headache than men.
3. Vascular - Vascular headaches occur due to an abnormal functioning of the vascular (or, blood vessel) system. The best known type of vascular headache is a migraine, but cluster headaches are also categorized as vascular headaches.
4. Traction - Traction headaches typically point to a more serious condition, and occur when the pain-sensitive parts of the head are stretched. For example, a traction headache may occur because eye muscles have been strained.
To better understand your headache(s), it's important to understand the differences in symptoms between one type of headache and another. Doing so will put you on the right track to getting the treatment you need. To learn more about the symptoms for headaches, read the next section on symptoms of headaches called Headache Symptoms now.