Headaches are one of the most common disorders of the nervous system. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about half of adults have had a headache in the last year, with 30 percent of those reporting having a migraine headache. WHO estimates that having a headache on 15 or more days every month affects up to four percent of the world’s population. Recurrent headache pain, or headache disorders, cause thousands of hours of lost work time, pain, disability, and financial cost every year.
The International Headache Society publishes “The International Classification of Headache Disorders,” which has classified more than 150 types of headache disorders. Under this system, primary headaches are considered to occur independently, or not caused by another medical condition. This includes migraine, tension, and cluster-type headaches as most common in the category. Secondary headaches are considered to be those caused by pain-sensitive nerve endings being pushed or pulled out of place. These may be caused by conditions like fever, medication overuse, infection, high blood pressure, head trauma, stroke, tumors, and nerve disorders.
Not all headaches require medical attention. When headaches occur three or more times a month, preventive treatment is usually recommended. Some types of headaches may signal a more serious medical condition and call for prompt medical intervention. This would include a headache following a blow to the head, a sudden severe headache, sudden headache with a stiff neck, headache with fever, convulsions, confusion or loss of consciousness, or associated with pain in the ear or eye, persistent headache in a person who does not normally have headaches, or recurring headaches in children.
The WHO classifies Migraines, Tension Type Headaches (TTH), Cluster Headaches (CH), and Medication-Overuse Headaches (MOH) as the most disabling of headache types. Triggers include anxiety, stress, lack of food or sleep, and exposure to light. Migraines are three times as common in women as men, due to hormonal changes.
Headaches can pose a heavy toll on sufferers including anxiety and depression, impaired quality of life, and problems with relationships and employment. Yet, it is estimated by WHO that only about half of headache victims seek medical attention. The rest are estimated to be self-treating with over-the-counter medications. According to WHO, only about four hours of undergraduate medical education are dedicated to instruction on headache disorders, sometimes resulting in improper diagnosis and treatment.
Treatment for headaches requires a knowledgeable professional (such as your physician), proper diagnosis and recognition of the type of headache condition, and use of drugs such as analgesics, anti-emetics, prophylactic medications (preventive), or specific anti-migraine medications.
The Herrick Library has several books on headaches and related conditions. If you have any questions about headaches, the library staff will be happy to help you find more information.
Additional reliable websites for headache information:
American Migraine Foundation
MedLine Plus, Headaches
Medline Plus, Migraines
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke