Headaches are the most common neurological disorder. They affect almost everyone occasionally. However, they become a significant problem for an estimated 40% of people in the UK at some time in their lives.
As an isolated symptom, headaches are very rarely caused by tumours or a ‘serious’ underlying disease. Nevertheless, it can often be a significant problem so seeing a GP or neurologist is often the best step to finding support.
Migraines affect 15% of the UK adult population. In any one day, up to 100,000 people are absent from work or school in the UK. This represents an enormous cost burden to employers as well as being disruptive to day to day life.
Types of headaches
A headache is classified as ‘primary’ if you do not present with a structural abnormality, such as a tumour. It is also determined as a ‘primary’ headache if you have no other clear trigger for it such as a head injury. The most common primary headache conditions are migraines and tension type headaches.
Migraine headaches are usually one-sided, severe throbbing headaches with accompanying nausea. The discomfort is worsened by bright light and loud noise. They can last anywhere between four hours and three days. However, the headache often comes with other, more troublesome symptoms.
These might include nausea, resistance to bright lights, symptoms that limit your ability to work so if you have had presented with these alongside a headache, it was likely to be a migraine.
Cluster headaches are much less common than migraines or tension headaches. However, they are intense and frequently recurring.
Tension-type headaches affects up to 80% of people from time to time. It is often referred to as a ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ headache. As a result, more are treated without visiting the GP.
However, headaches can last over several hours and are often disabling for this time. This is a regular occurrence for many people which impacts daily life. It can also have a significant impact on employers and the economy due to absence.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are generally effective in such instances. It should be noted that excess usage of OTC medications can result in overuse headaches.
Medication-overuse headaches are usually characterised by a chronic daily headache. This is the most common cause of ‘secondary’ headaches. It often presents in combination with migraines or mild head or neck injury.
Caffeine overuse or withdrawal and a number of other medical conditions such as anaemia and thyroid problems can also cause headaches.
Information for Patients
Dr Paviour is a Consultant Neurologist in Central and South West London. He has a specialist interest in Parkinson’s disease and other Movement Disorders. He is the clinical lead for Movement Disorders at the Atkinson Morley Regional Neurosciences Centre.
Patients are welcome to his clinics to discuss symptoms of headaches. Simply phone 020 7042 1850 or send a message via our contact us page.