Acute Headaches

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Acute Headaches: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Acute headaches can be so debilitating that they hinder your ability to carry out daily activities. It’s essential to recognize the three most common types—tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches—and understand their causes, symptoms, and when to seek emergency care.

Types of Headaches

 Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most prevalent type, characterized by a dull, constant pain on both sides of the head. Symptoms may include tenderness in the scalp, pressure behind the eyes, and sensitivity to light and sound. Causes are unclear, but stress, anxiety, and depression are contributing factors.

Acute Headaches

Common Triggers:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Dehydration
  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Bad posture
  • Lack of exercise
  • Eye strain
  • Skipped meals

 Migraine Headaches

Migraines affect 12% of the U.S. population, causing intense pulsing or throbbing pain on one side of the head. Additional symptoms include sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Genetic factors, certain nervous system conditions, and gender (more common in women) contribute to migraines.

Common Triggers:

  • Sensitivity to certain foods
  • Skipped meals
  • Dehydration
  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Sleep disruption
  • Exposure to chemicals
Acute Headaches

 Cluster Headaches

Severe and recurring, cluster headaches cause burning and piercing pain behind one eye or side of the head. They occur in series, with attacks lasting 15 minutes to three hours and recurring multiple times a day. While the cause is unknown, men are six times more likely to experience cluster headaches than women.

Common Triggers:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Exposure to potent smells (perfumes, chemicals, paint)

Signs of an Emergency

Sometimes, a headache indicates a more serious issue. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience the following symptoms along with a headache:

  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Rash
  • Fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • Loss of vision
  • Paralysis in any part of your body
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Nosebleeds
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

Additionally, stroke symptoms can resemble migraine symptoms. If you don’t typically get migraines and experience their symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.