Headaches and Migraines

headache and migraine

Headaches are one of the most common conditions that people experience. It’s estimated that 50-75% of adults globally (aged 18-65 years), experience a headache each year, with 30% of those experiencing migraine.[I]

Headaches may start as a feeling of tension or tightness around your head, which can develop into a dull ache, throbbing sensation, or stabbing pain.

Types of headaches

There are 2 major categories of headaches:

Primary headaches are also known as headache disorders as the headache itself is the condition. These include tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraines, among others.

Secondary headaches are those that are a symptom of another condition such as a medical condition, infection, dehydration, or an injury.

Primary headaches: Symptoms and Treatment

Tension Headache

Tension headaches are generally caused by stress. They’re characterised by dull, non-throbbing, mild to moderate pain that feels like a tight band of pressure around the head. Pain can be felt all over the head with sensitivity in the scalp, neck and forehead.

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief such as aspirin or ibuprofen may help to ease them. Speak to your TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacist to ensure that these products are suitable, and the most appropriate, for you and your headache

Cluster Headache

These occur in cyclical patterns or cluster periods which can last for weeks or months. They usually start suddenly without warning and involve excruciating, stabbing pain around or behind one eye, which can last from 15 minutes to three hours. Cluster headaches are more common in men and may involve some sensitivity to light or sound.[i] The cause is unknown.

Treatment is designed to decrease the severity of pain, reduce the headache period and reduce attacks. You should speak to your doctor about a management plan, which may include oxygen therapy[ii], and medications.


Migraines are also a primary headache disorder. They affect around 20% of the population at some stage in their life, mostly those aged between 35 and 45, with women twice as likely as men to experience them.[i] They can last anywhere from a few hours to three days, with pain being moderate to severe. Typical symptoms include:

  • a throbbing headache commonly felt on only one side of the head, but can be experienced on both sides
  • warning signs (aura) such as vision loss, flashing lights, numbness or tingling
  • sensitivity to light, noise or odours
  • blurred vision
  • nausea or vomiting

Migraines can occur with or without an aura (classic migraine) or with all the symptoms except for head pain (silent or acephalgic migraine).

What causes migraines?

What’s the best thing to do for a migraine?

The exact causes of migraines aren’t fully understood, but there are some factors that may trigger a migraine. These include:

  • hormonal changes in women
  • wine or coffee
  • eating certain foods such as aged cheese, salty and processed foods and food additives
  • skipping meals or fasting
  • stress
  • bright lights, loud noises or strong smells
  • sleep changes (e.g. too much or too little sleep)
  • intense physical exertion
  • weather changes
  • medications

Migraines are severe headaches and don’t always respond to the same kind of treatment as other headaches. When symptoms begin you should stop your usual activities if possible and:

  • lie down in a quiet, calm, darkened room
  • apply hot or cold compresses to your head and neck — heat packs can help relax your muscles, while ice packs may dull the pain
  • drink a small amount of a caffeinated beverage as this can help relieve pain or enhance pain-relief in some medications[i]
  • take an OTC (over-the-counter) pain reliever such as ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetamol, as appropriate
  • take an anti-nausea medication, if required

Preventing headaches and migraines

Avoiding your triggers is the best way to prevent headaches. Keeping a headache diary about your headaches can also help you identify your triggers. This may involve:

  • reducing stress — biofeedback and other forms of relaxation training can help
  • maintaining good posture, especially at your desk
  • limiting screen time
  • checking your pillow offers adequate support
  • sleeping well
  • eating well and regularly, avoiding foods that may trigger a headache
  • staying hydrated
  • exercising regularly
  • quitting smoking

Migraine treatment primarily aims to manage symptoms and prevent future attacks. Some people may benefit from taking preventative medication, available on prescription. Ask your doctor if this may benefit you. You should also speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you think any medication you are taking may be contributing (e.g. hormonal medications).

Common Secondary Headaches: Causes and Treatments

Treatment for secondary headaches is usually based on the cause of the headache. For example:

  • Allergy or sinus headaches — OTC decongestants or antihistamines
  • Hormone headaches, linked to hormone fluctuations — OTC pain relief, relaxation, acupuncture, or medications
  • Caffeine headaches, caused by cutting back, or consuming too much — drink moderate amounts of coffee or cut it out entirely
  • Exertion headaches — analgesics can help relieve pain, but see a doctor if they persist
  • Hypertension headaches, caused by high blood pressure — seek urgent medical attention
  • Rebound headaches, caused by frequently using OTC (over-the-counter) pain relief — limit taking OTC medications and speak to your doctor or pharmacist about whether taking a daily preventative medication may be suitable
  • Post-traumatic headaches — prescription medication can be used to control pain, in addition to more holistic approaches like seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist.

When To Visit Your GP

Although most of the time a headache may be caused by a minor irritation, there are times where a headache can be a symptom of a serious medical condition. If you experience chronic headaches, it is important to see your GP to investigate any underlying conditions. It is also important to seek medical advice if you experience any of the below symptoms.

  • You have a very bad, blinding headache that appears suddenly and gets worse
  • You have had a severe head injury
  • You experience a sudden headache when you cough, laugh, sneeze or move
  • You present symptoms including slurred speech, confusion, weakness, drowsiness, memory loss, or have trouble walking
  • You have a fever, stiff neck, rash, pain in the jaw when you chew, vision problems, a sore scalp or bad pain in an eye

How TerryWhite Chemmart can help

If you’re experiencing joint pain, we are here to help. Speak to your local TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacist about your symptoms so we can recommend the products that may be right for you, to help relieve pain and inflammation.

If you’ve been using medication to manage your chronic pain with little success or are using pain medication alongside other medication, book a Pain Medication Review with one of our pharmacists. They can assess medication you’re currently taking, and make recommendations based on what may be best for you.

Book a Pain Medication Review today by calling your local TerryWhite Chemmart or book online.

General advice only – this information should not replace the information provided to you by your health care professional. If symptoms are severe or persist, please speak to your health care professional. Information current as of date of publishing.

[i] World Health Organization, Headache disorders, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/headache-disorders

[ii] Mayo Clinic, Cluster headache, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cluster-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20352080

[iii] Mayo Clinic, Cluster headache, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cluster-headache/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352084

[iv] Headache Australia, Migraine, https://headacheaustralia.org.au/migraine/

[v] WebMD, The Link Between Caffeine and Headaches, https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/triggers-caffeine

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