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Here’s how to identify types of headaches

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If there were an underdog in the directory of medical symptoms, it would be the headache.

“Headaches are often ignored by patients who prefer to self-medicate. They’d rather pop a pill than investigate the cause,” explains physiotherapist Dr Anjana Laungani at her Bandra clinic Physio Rehab.

This may provide temporary relief without solving the cause of the pain. A headache, says Laungani, could be a red flag for a more serious condition.

While the pain manifests in the head or upper neck, the cause could be located in a completely different part of the body.

“Headaches are a general symptom. There are life-threatening headaches and red flag ones. These could be caused by a tumour or bleeding in the brain,” she warns.

Either way, ignoring the pain in your noggin, isn’t advisable. Here’s a guide to the types of headaches that warrant a visit to the doctor.

Cervicogenic headaches: This kind of headache is characterised by pain emerging from the back of the neck, in the junction between the skull and the upper neck. These headaches are named after the cervical spine or C2 junction from where they originate. “The pain is common since it is triggered by poor posture. You are likely to suffer from this if you have a tendency to slouch or hunch for prolonged periods of time since it can jam your C2 junction,” says Laungani.

The condition, says Laungani, affects patients of all ages. It is increasingly prevalent among teenagers owing to bad posture. The doctor blames technology, too. “Kids are always slouching with their tablets and cell phones. Young working professionals are also susceptible due to long hours of sedentary lifestyles including spending hours behind a desk,” she says.

Symptoms: Those suffering from this condition may also experience tightness of the upper trapezius (area between the upper neck and skull), levator scapulae (part of the shoulder blade), sternocleidomastoid (muscle on the front of the neck), pectoralis major and minor (chest muscles), suboccipital muscles (between the skull and the neck) and the scalene muscles (front of the neck).

“Once this condition is diagnosed through the classical features, we would implement soft tissue release which is like a medical massage to relax the knots in the muscles and release trigger points. Then we would initiate the dry needling technique which involves inserting needles into the muscles to relieve pain,” explains Laungani. It’s important, she says, to relieve the patient of the pain first, then work on strengthening the core muscles in the neck through exercise.

Giant cell arteritis headaches: This headache is caused by inflammation of the lining of the arteries. It commonly affects the arteries around the temples. Hence, it is also called temporal arteritis.

Symptoms: Apart from a headache, this condition also has symptoms like jaw pain, blurred or double vision, scalp tenderness, fever and weight loss. “Generally observed among people above the age of 50, it can be diagnosed by a biopsy of the temporal blood vessels,” explains Dr K Ravishankar, a specialist in headache medicine. His previous work includes consulting with hospitals like Jaslok and Lilavati.

The cause is treatable through proper medication. Ignoring this condition, warns Ravishankar, could lead to permanent loss of vision in its final stage.

Computer vision headache: This is probably the most common kind of headache, and is caused by constant exposure to bright light (the kind emitted from computers and handheld devices). Additional symptoms apart from headache include fatigue, blurred vision, double vision, neck pain and redness in the eye.

“Most people spend seven-eight hours daily in front of a computer screen at work and then go home and retire in bed with their cell phones. This adds a lot of strain on the eyes and the frontal part over the eye brows, resulting in a headache,” explains Dr Ragini Parekh, Professor and head, Eye department, Grant Medical College and Sir JJ Group of Hospitals.

This headache is most likely to be misunderstood for stress and hence, ignored. A common solution would be to break up the time one is exposed to bright lights or have direct sunlight fall on the computer screen, do fade the intensity of the light. This can be arranged by having a desk lamp that distributes the light evenly. It also helps if the computer screen is slightly lower than eye level.

WHAT A PAIN! According to medical dictionaries, a headache is defined as a pain arising from the head or upper neck of the body. The pain originates from the tissues and structures that surround the brain.

It is interesting to note that the brain itself has no nerves that give rise to the sensation of pain. The periosteum, a membrane that surrounds the brain as well as bones, muscles that encase the skull, sinuses, eyes, and ears; and meninges that cover the surface of the brain and spinal cord, arteries, veins, and nerves, all can become inflamed or irritated to cause the pain of a headache. This pain may be dull, sharp, throbbing, constant, mild, or intense.

In 2005, the International Headache Society released a classification system to help find a treatment depending on the type of headache.

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