With around 87% of Australians experiencing a headache in the last year, it's clear this is a common symptom. In the vast majority of cases having a headache doesn't mean anything serious is happening. However, there are some headache symptom facts many neurosurgeons would like their patients to know.
The location of your headache is important
The location of your headache can tell you a lot about its cause. For example, a general headache that appears on both sides of your head is usually due to tension. Other locations to watch out for include:
- Pain across the front of your head: your sinuses might be to blame.
- Pain on one side: you may have a migraine.
- One-sided pain that's severe: potentially a cluster headache.
- Pain that moves across your face: you may have trigeminal neuralgia.
Of the different types you can experience, tension headaches and migraines are the commonest.
Different types of pain tell different stories
If your head pains range between mild to moderate on the severity scale and you have no other symptoms, you're possibly experiencing a tension headache. These headaches also respond well to over-the-counter medications, such as paracetamol. In contrast, a migraine can feel like a severe throbbing pain that's difficult to relieve. You might encounter something called an aura, which could include flashing lights. Some migraine sufferers find their pain is intolerable unless they lie down in a dark room.
If you're experiencing a cluster headache, the pain usually lasts between 15 minutes and three hours. The headache will feel like a sharp and severe piercing sensation, it could focus around your eye, and you may experience tearing and drooping eyelids. Although cluster headaches aren't usually dangerous, it's better to have a professional such as a neurosurgeon decide what it is before tackling it yourself.
If the pain you're experiencing moves down your face and is triggered by light movements such as brushing your hair, it could be due to trigeminal neuralgia. This headache won't respond to everyday pain relief and usually requires specialist advice.
Warning symptoms neurosurgeons look out for
When neurosurgeons hear about certain red flag symptoms, they will request further tests. Such symptoms include:
- A pain that's sudden and severe, like a thunderclap: seek immediate medical attention.
- A red bloodshot eye may also indicate an emergency.
- Symptoms that are becoming progressively worse no matter what you do.
- Associated nausea and vomiting, especially in the morning.
Always remember, most headaches won't require a visit to a neurosurgeon. But, if yours is persisting it's a good idea to seek advice from your GP to alleviate any concerns.