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Headaches - What it is

Headaches may be one of the most common medical complaints. Almost everyone gets a headache now and then. For most people, a headache is an infrequent annoyance that comes and goes. But when they start to occur regularly, your education, work, family and social activities can be affected. This may result in increased medical cost and affect your ability to work and take care of your family. It can also cause significant concern and anxiety.

Most headaches are not an indication of a serious medical condition and most, if not all, can be treated effectively. However, medical attention should be sought for frequent or severe headaches.

Headaches - Symptoms

Types of Headache   


  • Pain begins or stay just on one side of the head
  • Pulsating and throbbing pain of moderate to severe intensity
  • Physical activities, especially bending or coughing makes headaches worse
  • Sensitivity to lights, sound and smell
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • May be preceded by flash lights
  • May be associated with visual symptoms, e.g. Seeing zigzag lines and tingling/numbness of limbs

These symptoms may occur before or during a headache attack, but lasts no more than an hour.

Tension Headache

  • Pain feels like a tight band pressing around the head
  • Pain is usually dull, steady and not throbbing
  • No nausea or vomiting associated with the headache

Cluster Headache

  • Headache attack often awakes patient from sleep at a similar time every night
  • Pain always occurs on the same side and usually centres over one eye which causes tearing and redness
  • Opposite side of the head is completely unaffected
  • Patient usually paces up and down, holding the head

Headaches - How to prevent?

Headaches - Causes and Risk Factors

What Causes Headaches?

Most headaches have a genetic basis, i.e. it runs in the family. The patient may have other family members who also suffer from headache disorder and may also be sensitive to certain triggers that can lead to a headache attack. Lessen the impact of a headache by identifying and avoiding specific triggers, such as:

  • External environment - Weather, smell and sound
  • Emotion and stress
  • Food and drinks

Keeping a headache diary will help to identify factors that have any relationship to the headache patterns.

Headaches - Diagnosis

Headaches - Treatments

There are many ways of treating headaches.

Symptomatic treatment

  • To relieve the symptoms of a headache attack

Prophylactic treatment

  • To prevent a headache attack from occurring

Apart from medical therapy, keeping a healthy lifestyle is important, e.g. Having adequate sleep, regular meal times, regular exercises and avoidance of smoking. If you have known triggers, you should try to avoid them.

Headaches - Preparing for surgery

Headaches - Post-surgery care

Headaches - Other Information

The information provided is not intended as medical advice. Terms of use. Information provided by SingHealth