Is Treating Your Headache Giving You a Headache – Part 2

In a previous blog, we looked at the most common types of Primary headaches, as well as their causes and treatments. In this article, we’re taking a closer look at Secondary Headaches.

A headache is referred to as “secondary” when it’s caused by another condition, such as an illness or injury. The causes of these types of headaches are extremely varied, and while some can be serious, others are as simple as an ice cream headache, or “brain freeze.”

Types of Secondary Headaches

Over 90% of the headaches seen by doctors are primary headaches, with less than 10% being secondary. Common secondary headaches include:

  • Medication overuse headache – common when painkillers are taken too frequently, or for prolonged periods of time. In most cases, the headaches disappear when the medication is stopped.
  • Sinus headache – caused by sinusitis or other sinus infection. In most cases, antibiotics are given to treat the infection, and the headaches will stop once the infection is cleared.
  • Spinal headache – common after the administration of spinal anaesthesia, such an epidural during childbirth.
  • Cervicogenic headache - this is related to an underlying neck condition, such as degenerative disc disease of the cervical vertebrae.
  • Food and drink – certain foods, such as chocolate, coffee, cheese and citrus fruit, as well as additives such as colourants and other “e” numbers, can trigger headaches.

Other causes of secondary headaches can be more serious, including:

  • Thunderclap headache – this is a severe headache that peaks within a minute of starting and can be caused by an infection or a nerve or blood vessel disorder. The most common cause is sub-arachnoid haemorrhage (bleeding into the coverings of the brain).
  • Acute single headache – this is often a pointer to meningitis. It starts more slowly than a thunderclap headache in a person who is already unwell, usually with a high temperature and sometimes a stiff neck.
  • Brain tumour – these are rare in general, and very few are diagnosed only from a headache without any additional symptoms. Most tumours are discovered following an epileptic fit, marked personality changes or weakness in parts of the body.

Because secondary headaches are caused by other, underlying conditions, treatment doesn’t usually involve addressing the headache itself, but rather the underlying cause. This is determined by taking a thorough medical history and conducting a comprehensive physical examination. Tests to discover what illness is causing the headaches could include blood tests, CT or MRI scans, and lumbar punctures.

Dr Alain Sanua is a qualified Medical Doctor and a firm believer in the efficacy of Integrated Medicine. He has a particular interest in treating persistent conditions, including Headaches, and would welcome the chance to chat to you about yours, identifying the cause and recommending an effective course of treatment. Contact him today to make an appointment.


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