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Health Information For Teens
Although it may feel like it, a headache is not actually a pain in your brain. The brain tells you when other parts of your body hurt, but it can’t feel pain itself.
Most headaches happen in the nerves, blood vessels, and muscles that cover a person’s head and neck. Sometimes the muscles or blood vessels swell, tighten, or go through other changes that stimulate the surrounding nerves or put pressure on them. These nerves send a rush of pain messages to the brain, and this brings on a headache.
The most common type of headache is a tension headache (also called a muscle-contraction headache). Tension headaches happen when stressed-out head or neck muscles squeeze too hard. This causes pain often described as:
Pain that’s especially sharp and throbbing can be a sign of a migraine headache. Migraine headaches aren’t as common as tension headaches. But for teens who do get them, the pain can be strong enough to make them miss school or other activities if the headaches aren’t treated.
One big difference between tension headaches and migraines is that migraines sometimes cause people to feel sick or even to throw up. Tension headaches typically don’t cause nausea or vomiting.
Most migraines last anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours. Some can last as long as a couple of days. They can feel worse when someone is doing physical activity or is around light, smells, or loud sounds.
Lots of different things can bring on headaches. Most headaches are related to:
For some teens, hormonal changes can also cause headaches. For example, some girls get headaches just before their periods or at other regular times during their monthly cycle.
Headaches are common in people of all ages.
Migraine headaches often run in the family. So if a parent, grandparent, or other family member gets them, there’s a chance you could get them too. Some people are sensitive to things that can bring on migraine headaches (called triggers), such as some foods, stress, changes in sleep patterns, or even the weather.
If you think your headaches may be migraines, you’ll want to see a doctor to treat them and learn ways to try to avoid getting the headaches in the first place. Sometimes relaxation exercises or changes in diet or sleeping habits are all that’s needed. But if needed, a doctor also can prescribe medicine to help control the headaches.
You’ll also want to see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms as well as a headache:
If you do see a doctor for headaches, he or she will probably want to do an exam and get your
to help figure out what might be causing them.
The doctor may ask you:
The doctor may also do blood tests or imaging tests, such as a CAT scan or MRI of the brain, to rule out medical problems.
Sometimes doctors will refer people with headaches they think might be migraines or a symptom of a more serious problem to a specialist like a
, a doctor who specializes in the brain and nervous system.
It’s very rare that headaches are a sign of something serious. But see a doctor if you get headaches a lot or have a headache that:
Most headaches will go away if a person rests or sleeps. When you get a headache, lie down in a cool, dark, quiet room and close your eyes. It may help to put a cool, moist cloth across your forehead or eyes. Relax. Breathe easily and deeply.
If a headache doesn’t go away or it’s really bad, you may want to take an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. You can buy these in drugstores under various brand names, and your drugstore may carry its own generic brand. It’s a good idea to avoid taking aspirin for a headache because it may cause a rare but dangerous disease called Reye syndrome.
If you are taking over-the-counter pain medicines more than twice a week for headaches, or if you find these medicines are not working for you, talk to your doctor.
Most headaches are not a sign that something more is wrong. But if your headaches are intense and happen often, there are lots of things a doctor can do, from recommending changes in your diet to prescribing medicine. You don’t have to put up with the pain!
In a concussion, the brain shifts inside the skull. This can cause a sudden – but usually temporary – disruption in a person’s ability to function properly and feel well. Here’s what to do if you suspect a concussion.
There’s good stress and bad stress. Find out what’s what and learn practical ways to cope in this article.
If the brain is a central computer that controls all the functions of the body, then the nervous system is like a network that relays messages back and forth to different parts of the body. Find out how they work in this Body Basics article.
If you’ve ever had a migraine, you know that these headaches can cause severe pain and other symptoms. Read about migraine causes, treatments, prevention tips, and lots more.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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