Tension, Migraine, and Cluster Headaches: What Are the Differences and Treatment Options?

Tension, Migraine, and Cluster Headaches: What Are the Differences and Treatment Options?

Headaches are one of the most common medical complaints worldwide, affecting people of all ages. While almost everyone gets a headache from time to time, some people have them on a much more frequent basis — sometimes as often as every week.

You might think headaches are all the same, but actually, there are different types, each associated with different symptoms and requiring different treatment approaches to achieve meaningful, long-lasting relief. 

At Magnolia Pain Associates, Nina Sandhu, DO uses advanced methods to diagnose headaches and tailors every treatment to help patients in Plano, Dallas, and Corsicana, Texas find much-needed relief. Here’s what she wants you to know about three relatively common types of headaches.

3 headache types: basic differences

Headaches happen for different reasons and bring on a variety of symptoms. But even though headaches are common, researchers still don’t have a complete grasp on what causes every type.

Migraine headaches

Migraines are severe headaches that tend to occur on one side of the head. They’re often accompanied by other symptoms, like nausea, sensitivity to light or sound, and visual changes, like tunnel vision. Some people experience symptoms like anxiety, restlessness, or confusion before a migraine happens (a period known as the “prodrome” stage).

Researchers don’t know for sure what causes migraines, but they do know that these headaches can be triggered by things like:

Learning what triggers your migraines can play an important part in reducing symptoms or avoiding headaches in the first place.

Cluster headaches

Like their name implies, cluster headaches tend to occur in clusters or groups, typically over a period of weeks or months. In between clusters, you won’t have any headache symptoms. 

Cluster headache pain usually occurs on one side of your head or around one eye, and the pain can be so severe, it may wake you from a sound sleep. These headaches tend to occur at around the same time each day (or night), causing restlessness and eye pain in addition to intense headache. Researchers don’t know the exact cause of cluster headaches, but they think they may be related to disruptions in the body’s internal clock.

Tension headaches

The most common type of headache, tension headaches usually affect both sides of your head, and they don’t cause “side effects” like nausea or sensitivity to light and sound. Instead, these headaches are caused by stress and muscle tension, especially tension in the muscles around your back, shoulders, and neck.

Tension headaches are definitely uncomfortable, but the pain is typically not as severe as that of a migraine or cluster headache. Some people describe it as a dull throbbing or a vise-like pain that encircles their head. Many people have tension headaches on a regular basis.

Custom approach to headache treatment

Mild headaches usually respond very well to over-the-counter pain medicines. But other headaches, like the three listed here, need a different type of treatment for symptom relief.

Many chronic and recurrent headaches require an ongoing “management plan” to help relieve or reduce symptoms and reduce the frequency of the headaches. Many treatment plans include pain medication, but they may also use other types of medications, like those used to treat depression, for instance. Keeping a “headache diary” can help you and Dr. Sandhu figure out what “works” and what doesn’t for managing your symptoms.

Recently, migraine sufferers have benefited from Botox injections to help control pain signaling associated with their headaches. And to relieve or prevent tension headaches, some patients turn to behavioral therapy or stress reduction therapy.

Don’t let headaches control your life

Bottom line: Every headache is different, and the way you experience a headache can differ dramatically from someone else’s experience. At Magnolia Pain Associates, Dr. Sandhu uses a patient-centered, holistic approach to tailor every treatment for optimal relief.

To learn how Dr. Sandhu can help you tame your headaches, book an appointment online or over the phone with Magnolia Pain Associates today.

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