An estimated 40% of the UK population suffer from regular headaches which may result in a substantially reduced quality of life during attacks. When people experience headaches for the first time, or a more severe headache than they are used to, it's natural to be concerned that this may represent something serious. Establishing whether or not there is an underlying cause for your headache is often the first step to treatment and recovery.
Not all headaches require medical attention. But, some types of headache are signals of more serious disorders and call for prompt medical care. These include: severe headache or sudden onset headache associated with a stiff neck or accompanied by confusion or loss of consciousness. Headache following a blow to the head, or associated with pain in the eye or ear will need a clinical opinion. Persistent headache in a person who was previously headache free or recurring headache should also be reported to an appropriate healthcare professional.
Dr Jeff Cochius, Consultant Neurologist tells us that, 'An estimated 100,000 people in the UK are absent from work or school because of headache every working day. Although the cause of headaches may require investigation by a Consultant Neurologist - it is important to remember that the most common headache by far is primary and therefore, not a serious threat to your health. Even if your headache is severe and debilitating, try not to assume the worst. Early intervention helps offer patients peace of mind and will alert your consultant to any serious underlying cause'.
The categorisation of your headache is key to establishing what further treatment may be required, the categories are:
- Primary Headache - which is benign and not related to another condition
- Secondary headache - which is a result of another underlying condition
Primary Headaches and their symptoms
Migraines are one of the most common causes of primary headache occurring in 10% - 15% of the UK adult population. Migraines are usually characterised by severe pain, throbbing on one or both sides of the head, associated with nausea and sickness, sensitivity to light, noise and smell, and made worse by movement. They can last from hours, up to several days in duration. A so-called 'aura' may precede the headache, and may be visual consisting of spots, zigzag lines, coloured lights or tingling of the face or limbs.
This is another common primary headache which can be difficult to treat. Unlike typical migraine, it is not associated with other prominent symptoms like nausea or intolerance to bright light. The pain is often described as a pressure or tightness around the head. The headache may last for many hours and may not respond to usual painkillers. Sometimes they can become chronic and occur on a daily basis for weeks or even months at a time.
This type of headache is less common than primary headache, and there are many potential causes including head trauma, meningitis, sinus infection, arthritis in the neck, inflammation or rupture of cranial blood vessels, side-effects of medication, and rarely intracranial lesions such as tumours.
Medication overuse headaches (MOH)
It is estimated that 1 in 50 adults suffer from this type of secondary headache. As the name suggests, it occurs in some people who take too much medication to treat their episodic primary headaches. Over time the headaches become more frequent as does the intake of analgesic medication until in some cases the headache is chronic and persistent. An important factor in the development of this condition appears to be the pre-emptive use of headache medication in anticipation of a headache attack.
Is headache ruling or ruining your life?
If so, your first step is to visit the new Headache Clinic at Spire Norwich Hospital for a consultation conducted by a Consultant Neurologist. Your one-to-one consultation will ensure you receive personally tailored advice and treatment.
Symptoms to look out for before visiting the Headache Clinic include:
- facial numbness or tingling
- sensitivity to light, noise and smell
- head and neck tightness/pressure
- throbbing on one or both sides of your head
- visual disturbance - lights, lines and zigzags
The Headache Clinic is open to all, please contact our customer service advisors on 01603 255614 or complete our online enquiry form for further information.