girl with bad headache

A severe headache can stop you in your tracks. How you treat it depends on what is causing the pain. The most common cause of headaches is muscle tightness in the neck, jaw, and shoulders. The pain tends to occur on both sides of your head, starting at the back of your head and slowly spreading forward.

Muscle tension headaches can be caused by

  • Injury
  • Holding your back or head in a strange position
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Try relaxation techniques such as stretching, massage, deep breathing, and meditation, especially if over-the-counter pain medicine hasn’t fixed the problem.

Sinus headaches may happen when allergies, a cold, or another illness make your sinuses swell. The pain is felt behind your eyebrows and cheekbones, especially when you bend forward or first wake up. Nasal decongestants and pain medication can help, although you may need to treat the underlying cause to keep the pain at bay.

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Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches, on the other hand, are more defined by their symptoms than their causes. Migraine “triggers” vary widely from person to person, and can include alcohol and smoking, stress, changing sleep patterns, strong odors, and foods. Unlike tension headaches, pain is often limited to one side of the head. Many people see visible warnings, called an aura, 10 to 15 minutes before a migraine starts, and an aura can include temporary blind spots, blurry vision, seeing stars or jagged lines, tunnel vision, and eye pain.

During a migraine, the immediate concern is relief for your symptoms (commonly including nausea, sensitivity to light, chills, sweating, and fatigue). Although there is no specific cure for migraines, many can be prevented. Try to find what is triggering your migraines by keeping a diary. If you sense a migraine coming on, or immediately afterward, try to remember what you ate, how you felt, and where you were when symptoms began. A diary can also help your medical provider recommend treatments or medications for severe or frequent migraines.

About Neurosurgery

The UPMC Department of Neurosurgery is the largest academic neurosurgical provider in the United States. We perform more than 11,000 procedures each year. We treat conditions of the brain, skull base, spine, and nerves, including the most complex disorders. Whether your condition requires surgery or not, we strive to provide the most advanced, complete care possible. Our surgeons are developing new techniques and tools, including minimally invasive treatments. U.S. News & World Report ranks neurology and neurosurgery at UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as among the best in the country. We also rank among the top neurosurgery departments in the U.S. for National Institutes of Health funding, a benchmark in research excellence.