Headache BasicsNot every headache is caused by the same problem in the body. There are many proposed causes of headaches. There are primary headaches, like migraines or tension-type headaches. The causes of these headaches are controverisal and are still being studied. From dysfunction of the neurons in the brain to changes in the blood vessels supplying the brain with blood, there are thought to be many causes of primary headaches.
Secondary headaches are ones that happen secondary to another issue in the body. These headaches can be caused by space-occupying lesions in the brain such as brain tumor, increased pressure in the head, or abscess. Other causes include drug intoxications, sinus disease, meningitis, high blood pressure, or stroke. These headaches happen much less frequently than primary headaches.
Headache PatternsIf your teen has headaches, or has just gotten his first one, it's helpful to know how to start to classify the headache. It can help a parent determine if it is a headache that needs immediate attention or not. It can also help when discussing a headache with a healthcare provider.
Headaches happen in a variety of patterns, but there are four common patterns of headaches:
- Acute headache: This is the first headache that someone has. It eventually resolves, with our without treatment.
- Acute recurrent headache: If an acute headache is the first, acute recurrent is when that first headache goes away completely, but returns at some point in the future. That second one resolves completely, and the pattern continues.
- Chronic daily (nonprogressive) headache: This is a headache that tends to be constant, or happens most days. This headache does not get progressively worse over time.
- Chronic progressive headache: This headache gradually gets worse over time. The headaches come more frequently, become more intense, or both. This is one of the most concerning kinds of headaches, and the teen should see the pediatrician right away if this kind of headache is happening.
But Is It A Migraine?Parents and their teens are often afraid that they have migraines. Part of the problem is people think migraines are horrible and unmanageable. Although they can be unpleasant and disruptive to someone's life, they don't have to be debilitating.
Migraines are acute recurrent headaches. During these headaches, there must be at least three of the following symptoms or associated issues:
- stomach pain,
- nausea or vomiting,
- throbbing head pain,
- pain on one side of the head,
- aura (visual, sensory or motor),
- headache gets better after sleeping or
- family history of migraine
This is a quick summary of when a headache might be a migraine, but it is helpful for parents to have an idea of whether or not a headache is truly a migraine. If your child doesn't have any of the other symptoms that usually come with a migraine, it probably isn't one. If the other symptoms sound familiar, talk to your pediatrician or family provider about your concerns.
Treating a HeadacheThe best way to treat a headache is to avoid it. Headaches and migraines can be triggered by an event, food, drink or something in the environment. These are some common headache triggers:
- Not enough sleep.
- Certain foods like chocolate, red wine, citrus fruit, dairy, beans, nuts, and fatty foods.
- Food additives like MSG or monosodium glutamate (Chinese food or other processed foods), nitrates (hot dogs, luncheon meats), aspartame (sugar substitute), or tyramine (certain wines, aged cheeses, dried or pickled fish, yogurt, sour cream).
- Too much caffeine or caffeine withdrawal.
- Alcohol or alcohol withdrawal (hangover).
- Environmental changes like bright, glaring or flickering lights, strong odors, or changes in weather.
- Not eating enough or not drinking enough fluids.
- Changes in schedule.
- Hormones. Many women find that they get headaches at certain points in their menstrual cycle.
- Prescription medications.
The other way to treat headaches is with analgesic (pain) medications. If your teen has never taken a pain medicine for a headache, you can try acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). The recommended dose for your teen will be on the bottle, or ask your pediatrician about an appropriate dose. The best time to take one of these medicines is at the beginning of a headache, when it isn't as painful. If the medication is taken after the headache has come on and gotten worse, it is harder to treat.