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A headache is a symptom of an underlying condition.

In Australia about 15% of the population takes painkillers for a headache at any given time. There are many types of headache, ranging from a sensation of mild pressure to severe migraine. Most headaches are caused by a combination of triggers including stress, poor diet, muscle tension and eyestrain.

Q What is a headache?

A Headaches occur when tissues or structures in and around the brain such as blood vessels, nerve fibres and sinuses are irritated, compressed or inflamed. Headache can result from referred pain from tooth, neck or eye problems.

Q What is the difference between migraines and other headaches?

A A migraine often involves a long-lasting headache with other symptoms that do not seem to fit with a headache, such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blurred vision or zigzag lights
  • Sensitivity to smell, touch, lights and sound

Migraine is very common in women (20% of women experience migraine during their life) and there is often a family history of migraine.

The distinction between headache and migraine is not always obvious. Migraine frequently has a pattern of features and recurrence that helps to diagnose it and to warn sufferers of an impending attack.

Q What should I do if I get headaches?

A All severe or frequent headaches should be investigated. It is not always easy to tell if your headaches are ‘severe’, as this depends very much on your tolerance to pain. If you experience headaches that make you bedridden or unable to attend work, medical advice should be sought.

For the majority of annoying, niggling headaches, you should still try to find a cause so that you may prevent their recurrence or reduce your dependence on painkillers.

Ruling out contributing health problems is an important step. Make an eye appointment to see if that is a contributor.