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Most headaches and migrainesÂ are unpleasant but harmless and can be relieved with self-help measures and pharmacy painkillers. Only a few (around 5%)Â are a signÂ that something is seriously wrong.Â These more serious headaches are often accompanied by other warning signs. For example, a headache accompanied by a rash and a very high temperature could be meningitis.
GetÂ medical advice urgently if your headache occurs suddenly and severely, especially after a blow to the head, orÂ if it's accompanied by a fever or feelings of drowsiness.
Here's a guide to the different types of migraine and headaches and how to tackle them.
MigrainesÂ are much more than just a headache. The Migraine Action Association says that migrainesÂ are the most common neurologicalÂ (nerve-related)condition in the developed world. They affect more than 15% of the UK population. Around two-thirds of migraines are in women. Migraines affect more people thandiabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined.
Attacks, which can last from 4 to 72 hours, can be completely disabling, and can prevent people from carrying out their usual activities for up to three days. Even when they don't have symptoms, people affectedÂ may live in fear of the next attack.
There is no cure for migraines, but it isÂ possible to control them with a range of treatments. However, what's successful for one person may not work for another, so it's important to keep trying different treatmentsÂ until you find one that works for you.
Around 10% of people who haveÂ migrainesÂ also experience aura symptoms. These are disturbances that startÂ 15 minutes to an hour before the headache. They can includeÂ blind spots, flashing lights, zigzag patterns, tingling, pins and needles, or numbness in the limbs.
Abdominal migrainesÂ often occur in children. They cause recurrent attacks of abdominal pain lasting for several hours. When the child reaches adolescence, this often changes to the more common migraine pattern.
Migraines in womenÂ are often linked to hormone changes. True menstrual migraines occur within two days either before or after the first day of a monthly period and at no other time.
MigrainesÂ are believed to be caused by the release of a chemical called serotonin into the bloodstream, resulting in changes in the brain. Exactly what causes this to happen is still a subject for research and debate. However, certain factors that can trigger attacks in susceptible people have been identified. These include:
Cluster headachesÂ are a rare form of headache. TheyÂ affect less than 1% of the UK population. They're often considered to be the worst type of headache because the pain is so intense. They usually occur around one eye.
Cluster headachesÂ areÂ more common in middle-aged men, but women can also have them.Â They affect peopleÂ of all agesÂ from four to over 80.
Attacks occur in clusters of up to eight per day, usually for a duration of six to eight weeks. They then may not occur again for months orÂ even years.Read more about cluster headaches.
These are estimated to affect 3-4% of the UK population and occur on more than 15 days each month. They can be caused by tension, muscle contraction and taking too many painkillers.
These headaches affect both sides of the head and cause a constant feeling of pressure or a tight band around the head.
PainkillersÂ can help relieve headaches, but it's possible to develop a tolerance to them, causing rebound headaches known as painkiller headaches. The condition can develop with overuse of any type of painkiller.
If you take medication to treat headaches on more thanÂ two days a week forÂ three months or more, you're at risk of painkillerÂ headaches. Consult your GP to identify the cause of the headaches and discuss other treatment options.
Most headaches and migraines can be treated with help and support from a GP. However, there are migraine clinics whereÂ you can receive specialist attention. Ask for a referral from yourÂ GP.
Find your local migraine and headache services.
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