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Mild Headache

Mild Headache Overview

Headaches are common but usually do not represent a serious illness. Even when headaches do not have a serious cause, they may be quite painful and disrupt daily activities.

There are many different causes of headache. The pain in different types of headache varies in intensity, location, and duration. Another important feature that helps distinguish among different types of headache is the quality of the pain -- whether it is sharp, dull, constant, intermittent, or pounding. Additional symptoms may accompany a headache:

  • Dizziness
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Changes in vision
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Eye, ear, or facial pain
  • Cold symptoms
  • Fever
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Nausea with or without vomiting

All these factors help determine whether or not a headache needs emergency treatment. Ultimately, the cause of the headache is the determining factor in deciding the best treatment.

  • Headache can affect anyone, of any race, socioeconomic status, age, and gender.
  • Stress and anxiety are reported to trigger some people's headaches. Some headaches seem to have no apparent cause.
  • The most common types of headache are known as tension-type, while the next most common are called migraine. What most people consider to be a mild headache is most often tension-type headache or a mix of tension-type and migraine.

What Causes Headache?

Headache is caused by irritation or injury to pain-sensing structures of the head. The structures that can sense pain include the scalp, forehead, top of head, the muscles of the neck and head, major arteries and veins in the head, the sinuses, and the tissues that surround the brain. The brain has no sensory nerve endings so the brain itself cannot "hurt."

Headache may occur when these structures suffer compression, spasm, tension, inflammation, or irritation.

Research into the mechanisms of various headache types is ongoing. The causes of mild tension-type headache are not yet completely understood. A common theory involves nerve endings in the head that are irritated by tight muscles in the neck, face, and scalp, along with irritation to the arteries and veins nearby.

The events that trigger mild headache vary widely among people who get headaches. Each person seems to have his or her own pattern. Common headache triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal fluctuations before, during, or after menstruation
  • Muscle tension in the back and neck
  • Exhaustion
  • Hunger and dehydration
  • Medications (Many drugs designed to relieve pain can actually cause headache when the drug is stopped after a period of prolonged use.)
  • Alcohol, caffeine, and sugar withdrawal

Other causes of headache include:

  • Household hazards such as carbon monoxide poisoning: If the headaches are recurrent or worse each morning or if more than one person in the household experiences the same type of headache, there may be an excessive level of carbon monoxide in the air. Carbon monoxide poisoning comes from faulty heaters or stoves that do not have proper exhaust to the outside of the house. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the building immediately and do not return until the levels of carbon monoxide are checked.
  • Headache associated with eye pain and vomiting: These headaches may indicate an eye disease called glaucoma and warrant immediate medical attention, or vision can be permanently harmed.
  • Headache that occurs with neck stiffness or pain, light sensitivity, fever, and confusion: These types of headaches could mean meningitis. This is a medical emergency and needs immediate attention.
  • Temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ) can cause grinding of the teeth and muscular tightness around the head and face, leading to headaches.
Last Reviewed 9/11/2017
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