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Each year, roughly one in six Americans sees a doctor for intense headaches. Despite the name, headaches are not literal pains in the head or brain. While the brain cannot feel actual pain, it signals whether other parts of the body experience distress. These signals come from swollen or tightened blood vessels, muscles, and nerves that surround the head and neck and continually respond to environmental stimuli, including pressure, allergens, and viruses. Knowing why headaches happen helps determine if emergency care is necessary.

Headaches Versus Migraines

Common tension headaches involve squeezing of the head and neck muscles. Typically, discomfort presents itself as a constant, dull pressure on the back, sides, and front of the head and often results from stress. Illness such as colds and the flu frequently accompany sinus headaches. Sufferers may find relief through proper hydration, over-the-counter pain medicines, and abandoning popular stimulants like caffeine. However, headaches may start as a form of withdrawal when someone kicks a longtime coffee habit, or begins a certain medication.

The mechanics behind migraines are the same as those that cause tension headaches. However, migraines are much more painful, producing a sharp, throbbing sensation that usually last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 days. Unlike tension headaches, migraines actively interfere with the sufferer’s life, making school and professional activities difficult. 

What Causes Headaches?

Numerous factors explain why headaches happen, including:

  • Music played at high volumes.
  • Heavy caffeine consumption.
  • Sudden caffeine withdrawal.
  • Dehydration.
  • Inadequate eating and/or sleep.
  • Head injuries.
  • Prolonged exposure to computer and television screens.

The following illnesses and conditions often occur alongside headaches:

  • Flu.
  • Cold.
  • Sinus and ear infections.
  • Urinary tract infections.
  • Strep throat.
  • Lyme disease.
  • Aneurysms.*
  • Stroke.*
  • Meningitis.* 

*The last 3 conditions demand prompt medical treatment and cause death if left unattended. Whether headaches are new or an ongoing nuisance in someone’s life, severe discomfort and symptoms that seem unusual justify a trip to the emergency room.

Intense headaches call for proper medical examination to rule out possibilities of severe illness and begin treatment of formally diagnosed conditions. My Emergency Room 24/7 implements modern, best practices that initiate solid, long-term treatment plans for those who suddenly suffer from severe and chronic headaches or migraines. Should you experience unusual, unfamiliar symptoms accompanying headaches or migraines, and are located in San Marcos, visit our emergency care center.

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While virtually everyone experiences at least one unforgettable headache at some point in their life, many people are plagued by recurrent headaches. In fact, about 30 million Americans are affected by chronic migraines, one of the most severe types of headache pain. The team of board-certified physicians at My Emergency Room 24/7 in San Marcos, Texas provides A-to-Z care for patients affected by head pain, including chronic migraines. Come into the office for prompt headache evaluation and treatment any time.

Headaches Q & A

What are primary headaches?

Primary headaches are caused by a problem with the pain-sensitive structures in your head. This type of headache pain can originate in the nerves and blood vessels around your skull, the chemical activity in your brain, or the muscles in your head.

Although there are over 150 different types of primary headaches, the most common are:

  • Tension headaches: As the most common form of frequent headache pain, tension headaches are muscle contraction headaches that cause mild to moderate pain, which comes and goes.
  • Migraine headaches: Migraine pain is generally a moderate to severe pounding or throbbing pain that usually occurs on just one side of the head. Along with sensitivity to light, noise, and odors, migraines may be accompanied by vomiting, abdominal pain, weakness, and loss of appetite. Migraines can last for a few hours or up to several days. People affected by chronic migraines often find that this discomfort interferes with daily life.
  • Cluster headaches: These headaches usually cause severe, throbbing, or burning pain behind one eye. Cluster headaches typically emerge several times a day during a so-called cluster period. They can also disappear for long stretches of time, sometimes years, before recurring.
What causes migraines?

Headache experts don’t fully understand what prompts a reaction in the pain-sensitive structures in your head, but they do know that migraines correlate with several potential triggers, including:

  • Increased stress or fatigue
  • Female hormonal changes
  • Environmental or seasonal changes
  • Shifts in sleep patterns

For some people, bright lights, strong smells, or other abrupt sensory stimuli trigger migraine pain. Others find that their headache problem is linked to certain foods or additives, such as aged cheese, red wine, or monosodium glutamate (MSG).

What are secondary headaches?

Secondary headaches, also known as cervicogenic headaches, are caused by an illness or underlying physical ailment. Unlike primary headaches, which originate in the head, the pain felt during a secondary headache begins in your neck and radiates into your head.

When is headache pain an emergency?

Headache pain can also be a symptom of a severe medical emergency, such as a stroke, encephalitis, or meningitis. If you’re experiencing an unusually severe headache, or if your headache pain doesn’t respond to standard pain relief measures, come in and see the team at My Emergency Room 24/7 as soon as possible.

If your severe headache is accompanied by a high fever, confusion, numbness, neck stiffness, confusion, or trouble seeing, speaking, or walking, call 9-1-1 or have someone drive you to My Emergency Room 24/7 for a complete assessment right away.