Chronic headache pain may indicate any number of issues, most of which boil down to common (and, frequently, avoidable) lifestyle factors. However, there are some types of chronic headache pain that is the secondary effect of some more serious medical issue. For this reason, anyone who has chronic headaches, especially those that are moderate to severe, should seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and management. Headaches can often seriously impact your quality of life, especially when they’re severe and accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or photosensitivity, but in many cases they can easily be treated by medications specifically formulated to manage that particular headache pain.
Chronic headache pain diagnosis
In order to properly diagnose chronic headache pain, doctors often have to resort to a game of elimination. Because many causes of headaches are not well-known, diagnosis will generally start with eliminating the possible known causes, and then evaluating based on that knowledge and on the type of headache.
Headache types are generally classified according to whether or not they’re pulsating, whether pain only appears on one side or both, type of onset and duration. In order to be classified as chronic, a headache sufferer must experience a headache at least 15 out of every 30 days. These headaches will generally be longer duration, and doctors will also attempt to determine what kind of food, activities, and other lifestyle factors generally precede each headache.
Primary headache causes
Most primary headaches are either tension-related or migraines. The former is one of the various symptoms of stress, while there is no clear cause for the latter. Migraines are very prevalent in the general population, especially among women, and they are the most likely type of headache to be severe enough to prevent normal daily function.
Migraines may be caused by a number of factors including hormone changes, nerve changes, and brain chemical imbalances. This last is what leads experts to believe that migraines are connected to mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety. There is medication available by prescription that has been effective in managing migraines, whereas tension headaches are generally treated with NSAIDs such as Aspirin, as well as stress management changes in daily life.
There are a number of other issues that may cause chronic headache pain. After the pain has continued for a length of time without any other symptoms, the likelihood that it is related to a minor secondary cause – such as dehydration or sinus pressure – diminishes. Other possible causes of secondary headaches include an impinged nerve (sometimes the result of whiplash, or scarring from arthritis), cranial pressure, or abnormal growths in the brain cavity. If the headache comes on very quickly, it is important to see your doctor, especially if you’re at risk for blood clots.
Overall, most chronic headache pain is easily managed with NSAIDs, migraine medication, stress management, or antihistamines. However, chronic headaches should always be evaluated by a healthcare professional in order to rule out any serious, potentially life-threatening cause.