Headaches are a real pain, literally. But how bad or frequent should the pain be before it is cause for alarm. Headaches result in discomfort, and in extreme cases, an inability to perform routine tasks. Every person can experience different types of headaches, ranging from a sharp pain to a tightening of the entire head. Headaches can be triggered by different factors, including high blood pressure, stress, excessive motion, or chemicals in the body, to name a few. It is therefore important for a person recognize which factors would often result in headaches and to avoid exposure to these factors to prevent its reoccurrence. Physicians generally classify headaches according to its etiology, wherein primary headaches are those that are caused by specific factors such as tension and anxiety, whereas secondary headaches are those that signify an underlying medical condition such as high blood pressure, infection, inflammation, or stroke.
Migraines are classified as primary headaches that are characterized by a throbbing pain and are generally caused by stress. Interestingly, migraines evolved from headaches occurring on a regular basis, which are commonly described in the medical field as episodic. It has been postulated that migraines are the body’s response to the overuse of medications for simple headaches. In addition, migraines are usually confined to a specific region of the head, such as the temples or the forehead. Individuals who suffer from migraines usually find it difficult to be in presence of bright lights and noise, whereas others feel nauseous when suffering from migraines. Interestingly, studies have shown that women are three times more likely to develop migraines, as compared to men, thus highlighting the role of hormones in its occurrence. Over the counter medications for an inflammation related to migraines are often administered as treatment.
One important aspect to understand is that migraines are different from secondary headaches. It is also beneficial to know that secondary headaches can also serve as a sign of a more serious condition and thus, may dictate prompt medical attention. Physicians may consider sharp pain in the head as an indication of the onset of a stroke. Furthermore, this type of sharp pain occurs without any previous symptoms and thus a person may be at work, driving, or even enjoying a meal when this event happens. Unlike migraines, which are usually preceded by the perception of flashes of light, the sharp pain associated with stroke-related headaches does not show any initial warning signs.
Aside from its sudden onset, a sharp pain in the head characteristic of a hemorrhagic stroke can also persist for several hours and thus it is important to seek medical attention for a definitive diagnosis. The sharp pain may also be coupled with a stiff neck and difficulty in performing physical activities. One main cause of the sharp pain in the head is the inflammation of an artery in the brain, which has progressively increased in size and eventually ruptured. The outcome of this inflammation can thus be life threatening because blood can leak into the rest of the skull, putting enormous pressure on the brain. During this event, a person can lose consciousness, even in the middle of an activity. Ischemic stroke is another condition that is characterized by sharp pain in the head. Ischemic strokes are caused by an inflammation in the blood vessels of the brain due to the accumulation of fatty deposits in the walls. The inflammation of blood vessels is more common among elderly individuals, with the eyes and temples as the main sites of the sharp pain.
Pain in the head can also indicate an inflammation in the brain due to an infection. Pathogenic bacteria can cause destruction of nerve cells in the brain, which then results in sharp pain and inflammation. In order to determine whether an infection is present, cerebrospinal fluid is tested for the presence of microbes. It is important to prevent the spread of the pathogen because these can also infect the upper respiratory tract, causing inflammation of the sinuses. It is thus important to understand how your body feels and reacts, especially when your heads is aching, as this may be a hint of a particular type of inflammation.