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Identifying the five most common types of headaches and how to prevent them.

Did you know that according to the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD) there are over 30 types of diagnosable headaches? Here are some tips to help you identify, if you suffer from five of the most common types of headaches.

Migraine headaches
These headaches can be debilitating and are triggered by various factors including hormonal fluctuations, weather changes, stress and foods. They can last up to 72 hours and include two of the following characteristics:

  • Located on one side of the head
  • Pulsating quality
  • Moderate or severe pain
  • Aggravated by routine physical activity
  • To be classified as a “migraine headache,” one or more of the following must occur:
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Noise and sound sensitivity

The best treatment for migraines is prevention. Try to identify triggers and make adjustments accordingly. Do you research, avoid certain foods, learn how to manage stress levels, pay close attention to changes in weather systems and pay a visit to your doctor.

Cluster headaches
Cluster headaches are severe headaches that occur in cycles. This will cause pain on one side of the head, near or around the eye. These headaches typically last between 15–180 minutes and are accompanied by at least one of the following symptoms:

  • Nasal congestion and eyelid swelling
  • Tearing of the eye
  • Forehead and facial sweating
  • Drooping of the eyelid
  • Constriction of the pupil

Cluster headaches respond well with specific medications but also with oxygen therapy. Breathing 100% pure oxygen when the headache begins can help relieve symptoms.

Tension headaches
Those headaches that feel like an elastic band around the head fall into this category. These are the most common types of headaches and generally do not interfere with daily activity. They are also associated with the following symptoms:

  • Constant pressure/tightening, head in a vice
  • Mild to moderate intensity
  • Located in/around the temples (both sides)

Tension headaches respond well to alternative therapies like chiropractic, massage therapy and acupuncture. Some research has shown that using ice around the base and crown of the head can help to decrease the intensity of these headaches.

Cervicogenic headaches
A cervicogenic headache is a headache stemming from the neck. Many of the muscles in the neck and upper shoulders when tight, can refer pain into the head. Other characteristics of these headaches include:

  • A headache on one side of the head
  • Back of the head and may travel to the forehead
  • Moderate to severe in intensity
  • Pain starting in the neck
  • Aggravation by neck movements

These headaches can be relieved with simple neck stretches and exercises. They are often the result of poor posture especially when working at a computer. Therefore, having an ergonomic assessment at work could help to offset this type of headache.

Sinus headaches
Your sinuses are cavities located in the forehead and cheekbone area of the head. With infection, pressure can build within the sinuses causing head pain. Other symptoms associated with sinus headaches include:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Swelling in the face

If you do have an infection, you want to ensure that you consult your doctor for prescription antibiotics. With chronic sinus headaches, research has found that acupuncture can be helpful in improving circulation within the sinus cavities helping to decrease pressure and pain.

Please note: This article does not replace a diagnosis made by a medical doctor. If you suspect you may suffer from one of the above-mentioned headaches, please consult a licensed healthcare practitioner.

Dr. Nekessa Remy is an award-winning chiropractor, a registered and medical acupuncturist and one of Canada’s fastest rising and sought-after health and wellness expert in the industry today. She is the current owner of Mississauga’s The Chiropractic Office, a comprehensive injury management clinic focused on sports-related injuries and woman’s health issues and also runs a practice in downtown Toronto, at Integra Health Centre where she works amongst other leaders in the health care field. You can find her website here.


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