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Conditions & Treatments

Headaches & Migraines

What are the types of headaches?

Headaches Fact Sheet

FACT SHEET

Headaches & Migraines

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Headaches are usually classified into several broad categories including:

  • chronic tension headaches (or muscle contraction headaches)
  • migraine headaches (or vascular headaches)
  • cluster headaches

Chronic Tension Headaches (or muscle contraction headaches)

A chronic tension headache usually affects both sides of the head. It often involves the temple and eye region and possibly the neck. Chronic tension headaches evolve over a period of hours, can last days, and tend to remain constant. Sleep disturbance is common with a chronic tension headache.

Females are more likely to suffer from chronic tension headaches. There is no heredity pattern or visual disturbance, such as spots in a field of vision, involved with a chronic tension headache.

Some chronic tension headache triggers include:

  • physical and psychological stress
  • unreasonable work deadlines
  • sitting too long in front of a computer or workstation
  • neck injury such as whiplash


What are the causes of chronic tension headaches?

  • Changes in diet or sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Bright sunlight
  • Hormones & oral contraceptives
  • Stress
  • Nitrates (hot dogs and bacon)
  • MSG (found in Chinese food)
  • Alcohol
  • Strong odors (especially perfume)

Migraine Headaches (or Vascular Headaches)

Many people who suffer from migraine headaches, or vascular headaches, as an adult had experiences with migraines as children. Migraine headaches are usually one-sided and give off a throbbing or pounding pain. The pain generally settles behind one eye and may occur frequently or sporadically. Victims of migraines are more often female and have a strong family history of migraines or vascular headaches. Migraine attacks typically last from 4-24 hours. Symptoms of migraine headaches or vascular headaches include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, light or sound sensitivity and possible aura presence (visual illusions only seen by the patient).

What are the causes of migraines or vascular headaches?

  • Changes in diet or sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Bright sunlight
  • Hormones & oral contraceptives
  • Stress
  • Nitrates (hot dogs and bacon)
  • MSG (found in Chinese food)
  • Alcohol
  • Strong odors (especially perfume)

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are the least common type of headache, but are also the most severe. The pain from a cluster headache is intense and is described as a burning or piercing quality that is throbbing or constant. Cluster headaches are so severe that often the sufferer cannot sit still. The pain is located behind one eye, or in the eye region, and typically does not change sides. Cluster headache attacks normally occur 1-3 times per day over the course of weeks or months. The term cluster headache was coined because the period during which the attacks are occurring is called a cluster. A cluster period may disappear for months, or years, only to return. 

What can cause cluster headaches?

  • Changes in diet or sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Bright sunlight
  • Hormones & oral contraceptives
  • Stress
  • Nitrates (hot dogs and bacon)
  • MSG (found in Chinese food)
  • Alcohol
  • Strong odors (especially perfume)
  • Foods that contain Tyramine (cheese and red wine)

What headache relief options are available?

For headache relief to be effective, treatment must be initiated at the first indication of a headache. There are a variety of headache medications that supply headache relief.

  • Midrin® or Imitrex®
  • Antidepressants
  • Beta-blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Anti-nausea medications
  • Intravenous Lidocaine®


If headache medication does not provide you headache relief, other options include:

  • Nerve blocks injection
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Botox injections
  • Biofeedback


Headache relief will vary based on the type of headache. For additional information contact Southeast Pain and Spine Care to schedule an appointment. 

How can a pain management doctor help my headache?

Pain management doctors take into consideration the frequency and severity of the headache, results of previous therapy and diagnostic tests, previous drug use, along with any other diseases that might affect treatment choices. If headaches are relatively infrequent, the implementation of stress management and a trial of analgesics (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are usually successful. 

Frequent severe headaches are often treated with antidepressants. Some patients require further assistance in breaking the pain cycle, such as biofeedback (a technique in which patients use auditory signals to control stress levels), cervical epidural injections, other drug regimens and psychotherapy.

For additional information on:

  • chronic tension headaches (or muscle contraction headaches)
  • migraine headaches (or vascular headaches)
  • cluster headaches


Please call Southeast Pain and Spine Care to schedule an appointment with one of our
pain management doctors.

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