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Headaches FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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Q:Who suffers more frequently from migraine headaches: Men or women?

A:Women . Migraine afflicts 28 million Americans, with females suffering more frequently (17%) than males (6%). Nevertheless, migraine still remains largely underdiagnosed and undertreated. Less than half of individuals with migraine are diagnosed by their doctors.

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Q:Which is the most common type of headaches?

A:Tension headaches. Tension headaches are the most common type of headaches among adults. They are commonly referred to as stress headaches.

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Q:Which type of headache involves the trigeminal nerve?

A:Cluster headaches. When activated, the trigeminal nerve causes the eye pain associated with cluster headaches. The trigeminal nerve also stimulates another group of nerves that causes the eye tearing and redness, nasal congestion, and discharge associated with cluster attacks. The activation of the trigeminal nerve appears to come from a deeper part of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is home to our "internal biologic clock" which regulates our sleep and wake cycles on a 24-hour schedule. Recent imaging studies have shown activation or stimulation of the hypothalamus during a cluster attack.

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Q:Fever is a symptom of migraine headaches. True or False?

A:False. Fever is not a symptom of migraine headaches. Migraines are painful headaches often accompanied by other symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light.

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Q:What causes sinus headaches?

A:Inflammation of the sinuses. Sinuses are air spaces that develop from the nasal passages that help with air humidification and mucus secretion. Inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis) may decrease the ability for the mucus to drain, increasing pressure within the sinus, leading to a sinus headache. Common causes of sinus headaches include allergies or colds.

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Q:Tension headaches usually are so severe that they keep a person from performing daily tasks. True or False?

A:False. Tension headaches usually don't keep a person from performing daily tasks. An episodic tension headache may be described as a mild to moderate constant band-like pain, tightness, or pressure around the forehead or back of the head and neck. Remember, tension headaches are also commonly referred to as stress headaches.

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Q:Salt, allergies, milk, and aging are common migraine triggers. True or False?

A: Salt, allergies, milk, and aging are not typical migraine triggers. Common migraine triggers can include stress, sleep disturbances, fasting, hormones, bright or flickering lights, odors, cigarette smoke, alcohol, aged cheeses, chocolate, monosodium glutamate, nitrites, aspartame (artificial sweetener), and caffeine.

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Q:What kinds of headaches are primary headaches?

A:Primary. Migraine, sinus, tension, and cluster headaches are considered primary headaches, and can affect the quality of life. Some people have occasional headaches that resolve quickly while others are debilitated. While these headaches are not life-threatening, they may be associated with symptoms that can mimic strokes or intracerebral bleeding. Secondary headaches are those that are due to an underlying structural problem in the head or neck. There are numerous causes of this type of headache ranging from bleeding in the brain, tumor, or infection.

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Q:Cluster headaches generally strike at night. True or False?

A:Cluster. A cluster headache typically awakens a person from sleep one to two hours after going to bed. These nocturnal attacks can be more severe than the daytime attacks. Attacks appear to be linked to the circadian rhythm (or "biological" clock). Most people with cluster headaches will develop cluster periods at the same time each year -- either in the spring or fall or the winter or summer.

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Q:What is the trigeminal nerve?

A:The fifth of 12 cranial nerves (nerves of the head), The main nerve of the face and A nerve responsible for facial or cranial sensations such as pain. The trigeminal nerve is the fifth of the 12 nerves of the head. It is the main nerve of the face responsible for sensations (such as heat or pain). When activated, the trigeminal nerve causes the eye pain associated with cluster headaches. The trigeminal nerve also stimulates another group of nerves that causes the eye tearing and redness, nasal congestion, and discharge associated with cluster attacks.

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Q:A migraine sufferer is also likely to suffer from cluster headaches as well. True or False?

A:Cluster headaches. Cluster headaches generally reach their full force within five or ten minutes after onset. The attacks are usually very similar, varying only slightly from one attack to another. Much like a migraine headache, the pain of cluster headache is almost always one-sided, and occurs during a headache period. When a new headache period starts, it rarely occurs on the opposite side. The pain is located behind one eye or in the eye region, without changing sides. Cluster headaches are not typically associated with nausea or vomiting. It is possible for someone with cluster headaches to also suffer from migraines.

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Q:The "worst headache of your life" may be a symptom of what life-threatening condition?

A:Meningitis. Meningitis (an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord) may be a cause of the worst headache of your life. The onset is usually rapid (acute), and if untreated, the disease can be fatal within a very short period of time. The early symptoms are non-specific and flu-like. They are followed by more serious symptoms, which may include rash, stiff neck, confusion, vomiting, loss of appetite, fever, headache, and coma. Note: Should you ever feel that you are suffering the worst headache of your life, seek immediate medical attention.

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Q:Facial swelling is commonly associated with which type of headache?

A:Sinus headache. Sinus headaches are associated with a deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead, or bridge of the nose. The pain usually intensifies with sudden head movement or straining and usually occurs with other sinus symptoms, such as nasal discharge, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and facial swelling.

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Q:Of all headache types, which type of headache is recognized as the least common and most severe?

A:Cluster headache. The least common -- although the most severe -- type of primary headache, the pain of a cluster headache is intense and may be described as having a burning or piercing quality that is throbbing or constant. The pain is so severe that most cluster headache sufferers cannot sit still and will often pace during an attack. The pain is located behind one eye or in the eye region, without changing sides. The term "cluster headache" refers to headaches that have a characteristic grouping of attacks. Cluster headaches occur one to three times per day during a cluster period, which may last two weeks to three months. The headaches may disappear completely (go into "remission") for months or years, only to recur.

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Q:Common migraine headaches have been found to have a genetic basis. True or False?

A:True. Scientists have identified the first-ever genetic risk factor for common migraines. People who have a specific change, or variation, in a section of DNA that helps control a brain chemical called glutamate have a significantly greater risk of developing migraines. The landmark achievement marks a significant step toward understanding the mysteries of migraines and could help pave the way for the development of new treatments for preventing the debilitating headaches.

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Q:With regard to headaches, the term "bilateral" best describes which type of pain?

A:Pain that affects both sides of the head. Bilateral refers to having or relating to two sides. Bilateral is opposed, for example, to unilateral, which means having or relating to one side. Therefore, with respect to headaches, bilateral refers to headaches that affect both sides of the head.

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