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Campus Health Service

What is a headache?

Headache is a common and frequent disorder that seriously disrupts your life. The pain may be generalized or localized and may range from mild to severe.

Types of headache

  • migraines
  • cluster- headaches
  • tension-types
  • sinus headaches
  • hormonal-related headaches eg: pms,
  • rebound headaches
  • organic in nature - very serious!

What causes the pain?

Several areas of the head can hurt, including a network of nerves which extends over the scalp and certain nerves in the face, mouth and throat. Also sensitive to pain, because they contain delicate nerve fibres, are the muscles of the head and blood vessels found along the surface and at the base of the brain.

NB! The bones of the skull and tissues of the brain itself, however, never hurt, because they lack pain-sensitive nerve fibres.

When should I get help?

Not all headaches require medical attention. Some may be due to missed meals or muscle tension. The following are signs of more serious problems and should be followed up by your GP, or referred to a specialist or psychologist.

  • Sudden severe headache
  • Headache together with convulsion or pain in eye or ear
  • Headache with confusion or loss of consciousness
  • After a blow on the head
  • Headache with fever or interference with normal life
  • Recurring headache in children

Treatment

For most people analgesics may provide sufficient relief. Chronic and repetitive use of headache treatments may increase headache frequency in some individuals as it leads to rebound headaches! Moderate exercise may help to relieve muscle tension and thus reduce incidence of tension headaches. Chronic headaches must be treated by your doctor, please do not self-medicate!

Guidelines to better headache care:

  • Keep diary and record of following information and provide same to your GP:
    • date, time and length of headache
    • symptoms of nausea, vomiting, light-odour-sound sensitivity
    • possible triggers
    • menstrual cycle
  • Ask your family to assist you in identifying any possible triggers eg: Hunger, thirst, fatigue, depression, irritability, drowsiness, diarrhoea, constipation etc.
  • Keep one dose of prescribed medication handy, to minimize the severity of the attack.
  • Only take prescribed medication, do not alter prescribed dose. Do not stop taking medication without consulting your doctor.
  • Should you miss a dose, take it as soon as possible, unless it is almost time for the next dose. In that case skip the dose. Do not double doses!
  • After medication, lie down in a dark, quiet room until pain subsides.
  • Always follow your doctor's advice and make the recommended changes to your lifestyle.

Did you know?

Fluorescent lights may cause headache and fatigue due to their unnoticeable flickering of 60 times per second.

Prevention:

Use a table lamp to counteract its effect.