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A headache is a symptom of an underlying disorder in the body and is not a disease in itself. There are several factors that contribute to the development of headaches and these include stress, dehydration, low blood sugar after missing meals, infections, high blood pressure, eye strain, brain aneurysms, brain tumors, sinusitis, head injury, and even premenstrual syndrome.

Most causes of the headaches are self-limiting, that is, they subside by themselves after a while or on removal of the causative factor. Those that do not resolve in this manner require further investigation and medical intervention.

There are mainly five types of headaches. These include vascular, muscular, cervicogenic, traction, and inflammatory.
Vascular headaches are also known as migraines, but include other headaches such as toxic and cluster headaches. The pain can appear on either or both sides and can be associated with disturbances in vision and nausea and vomiting. At times, the pain can be so intense as to be incapacitating and can result in an individual being prostrated for the duration of the headache.
Muscular headaches occur from tensing of the head and neck muscles and can be called tension headaches. These may appear to start in the temples but usually radiate to the neck and upper back and shoulders.
Cervicogenic headaches occur due to a disorder in the bony skeleton of the neck and usually involve some amount of nerve root compression. These are also associated with restricted movement of the neck or the arms.
Traction headaches are caused by traction or pulling on the intracranial structures by abnormal structures such as masses.
Inflammatory headaches are caused due to infection and/or inflammation of the brain and surrounding structures. These are obviously symptoms of underlying disease and are cured by eliminating the underlying cause.     

Diagnosing a headache
A headache that does not have any other associated component is usually harmless and does not require any further investigation. If the headache is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, altered vision, stiff neck, convulsions, loss of consciousness, pain in the ear, severe pain, vomiting, etc., immediate medical attention is required. Based on physical signs and other relevant history, additional investigations including either CT scan or MRI may be required to rule out serious causes for the symptom.

Treating a headache
Headaches respond well to mild analgesia. Individuals with chronic or recurrent headaches that have not been identified as having any organic cause demonstrable on radiological imaging can resort to maintaining a record of their activities of the day the headache occurred. This will help in identifying a specific pattern, if present, and will go a long way toward treating and avoiding further headaches.

Preventing a headache
Some simple measures, gradually incorporated into routine lifestyle, can help prevent headaches or at least to reduce their frequency of recurrence. A few points that need attention include:
Avoidance of irritants.
Maintaining a regular routine with regard to meals and bedtime.
Healthy diet with emphasis on vitamins, proteins, and micronutrients.
Fluid intake over 2 liter per day.
Avoidance of caffeine or alcohol.
De-stressing oneself when one notices signs of stress.
Getting adequate sleep.
Reading in good illumination and with appropriate posture.
Staying happy and in positive company.
A few therapies that are yet to be proven medically as being efficacious in treating chronic headaches are also known. These include massages, aromatherapy, acupuncture, etc., and need cautious indulgence.
Posted 17 Feb 2009

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