Tension, Migraine, & Cluster Headaches: What Are the Differences and Best Treatment Methods?

Your head is hurting. A lot! So what do you do about it? In this blog, David Wu, MD, goes over the three main types of headaches so you can determine how to lessen the pain, lessen the frequency, and even prevent them.

What’s a tension headache?

If your head hurts, it’s most likely a tension headache, the most common kind. Tension headaches, also known as stress headaches or muscle contraction headaches, cause mild to moderate pain on both sides of your head and behind your eyes. It may feel like a tight band squeezing your head, face, and neck.

Muscle contractions in your neck and head area cause tension headaches. Triggers can include   certain foods, emotional stress, caffeine withdrawal, cold temperatures, eye strain, and long hours driving.

What’s a migraine headache?

Migraines are extremely painful and recurring headaches that can persist for a few hours or a few days. Pain is pulsating and often on one side of the head. Other migraine symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.

Migraines sometimes are preceded by auras, sensory warnings that tell you a migraine is coming. Auras can appear as weird vision changes, like seeing zig-zagging lines or flashing or sparkling lights. Early warning auras may also manifest as difficulty speaking, confusion, stiffness, and pins and needles in your legs and arms.

What’s a cluster headache?

Cluster headaches, which are relatively rare, are intensely painful headaches that recur over a period of several weeks to several months. Pain typically occurs around one eye and on one side of the head, and they often happen in the middle of the night. Auras could precede a cluster headache.

Cluster headaches are most likely caused by glitches in your body’s biological clock. Unlike tension headaches and migraines, cluster headaches are not associated with specific triggers, although alcohol can make the pain worse.

What’s the best way to treat headaches?

First, Dr. Wu will diagnose which type of headache is causing your pain. He’ll delve into your family and medical history, because some types of headaches run in families, and perform a physical exam and neurological assessment.

Once Dr. Wu determines the nature of your particular distress, he’ll create a treatment plan that may include oral or injected medications designed to alleviate symptoms by blocking pain and reducing inflammation.

For migraine sufferers, Dr. Wu might prescribe preventative medications to reduce the frequency of migraines. He might also prescribe painkillers to reduce discomfort during attacks.

If you suffer from severe and frequent headaches, book an appointment online or over the phone with David Wu, MD today to start getting relief.

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