Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
In this Article
- Headache facts
- What is a headache?
- How are headaches classified?
- What are primary headaches?
- What are secondary headaches?
- What are cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches?
- What causes tension headaches?
- What are the symptoms of tension headaches?
- How are tension headaches diagnosed?
- How are tension headaches treated?
- What causes cluster headaches?
- What are the symptoms of cluster headaches?
- How are cluster headaches diagnosed?
- How are cluster headaches treated?
- Can cluster headaches be prevented?
- What diseases cause secondary headaches?
- How are secondary headaches diagnosed?
- What are the exams and tests for secondary headaches?
- When should I seek medical care for a headache?
- How do you get rid of a headache? Are home remedies effective for headaches?
- Headache & Migraine Triggers - Slideshow
- A Visual Guide to Migraine Headaches - Slideshow
- Take the Headaches Quiz!
- Headaches FAQs
- Find a local Neurologist in your town
What are cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches?
Neuralgia means nerve pain (neur=nerve + algia=pain). Cranial neuralgia describes inflammation of one of the 12 cranial nerves coming from the brain that control the muscles and carry sensory signals (such as pain) to and from the head and neck. Perhaps the most commonly recognized example is trigeminal neuralgia, which affects cranial nerve V (the trigeminal nerve), the sensory nerve that supplies the face and can cause intense facial pain when irritated or inflamed.
What causes tension headaches?
While tension headaches are the most frequently occurring type of headache, their cause is not known. The most likely cause is contraction of the muscles that cover the skull. When the muscles covering the skull are stressed, they may become inflamed, go into spasm, and cause pain. Common sites include the base of the skull where the trapezius muscles of the neck insert, the temples where muscles that move the jaw are located, and the forehead.
There is little research to confirm the exact cause of tension headaches. It is believed that tension headaches occur because of physical or emotional stress placed on the body. For example, these stressors can cause the muscles surrounding the skull to clench the teeth and go into spasm. Physical stressors include difficult and prolonged manual labor, or sitting at a desk or computer for long periods of time concentrating. Emotional stress also might cause tension headaches by causing the muscles surrounding the skull to contract.
What are the symptoms of tension headaches?
Common presentation of tension headaches includes the following:
- Pain that begins in the back of the head and upper neck and is described as a band-like tightness or pressure. It may spread to encircle the head.
- The most intense pressure may be felt at the temples or over the eyebrows where the temporalis and frontal muscles are located.
- The pain may vary in intensity but usually is not disabling, meaning that the sufferer may continue with daily activities. The pain usually is bilateral (affecting both sides of the head).
- The pain is not associated with an aura (see below), nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound.
- The pain occurs sporadically (infrequently and without a pattern) but can occur frequently and even daily in some people.
- The pain allows most people to function normally, despite the headache.
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