For 2 years, Jim suffered the excruciating pain of cluster headaches.
Night after night he paced the floor, the pain driving him to constant motion.
He was only 48 years old when the clusters forced him to quit his job as a
systems analyst. One year later, his headaches are controlled. The credit for
Jim's recovery belongs to the medical staff of a headache clinic. Physicians
there applied the latest research findings on headache, and prescribed for Jim
a combination of new drugs.
Joan was a victim of frequent migraine. Her headaches lasted 2 days.
Nauseous and weak, she stayed in the dark until each attack was over. Today,
although migraine still interferes with her life, she has fewer attacks and
less severe headaches than before. A specialist prescribed an antimigraine
program for Joan that included improved drug therapy, a new diet and relaxation
The symptoms of migraines include:
A brief period of depression, irritability, anxiety, moodiness, and decreased appetite as much as 24 hours before the onset of a headache
Symptoms of an aura an hour or less before head pain starts
A severe, throbbing headache, sometimes concentrated on only one side of the head or around one eye lasting between four and 72 hours
A headache that worsens with exertion
Nausea and vomiting
Extreme sensitivity to light, so painful to the eyes an...
An avid reader, Peggy couldn't put down the new mystery thriller. After 4
hours of reading slumped in bed, she knew she had overdone it. Her tensed head
and neck muscles felt as if they were being squeezed between two giant hands.
But for Peggy, the muscle-contraction headache and neck pain were soon relieved
by a hot shower and aspirin.
An estimated 45 million Americans experience chronic headaches. For at least
half of these people, the problem is severe and sometimes disabling. It can
also be costly: headache sufferers make over 8 million visits a year to
doctor's offices. Migraine victims alone lose over 157 million workdays because
of headache pain.
Understanding why headaches occur and improving headache treatment are among
the research goals of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
Stroke (NINDS). As the leading supporter of brain research in the Federal
Government, the NINDS also supports and conducts studies to improve the
diagnosis of headaches and to find ways to prevent them.
Why Does it Hurt?
What hurts when you have a headache? Several areas of the head can hurt,
including a network of nerves which extends over the scalp and certain nerves
in the face, mouth, and throat. Also sensitive to pain, because they contain
delicate nerve fibers, are the muscles of the head and blood vessels found
along the surface and at the base of the brain.
The bones of the skull and tissues of the brain itself, however, never hurt,
because they lack pain-sensitive nerve fibers.
The ends of these pain-sensitive nerves, called nociceptors, can be
stimulated by stress, muscular tension, dilated blood vessels, and other
triggers of headache. Once stimulated, a nociceptor sends a message up the
length of the nerve fiber to the nerve cells in the brain, signaling that a
part of the body hurts. The message is determined by the location of the
nociceptor. A person who suddenly realizes "My toe hurts," is
responding to nociceptors in the foot that have been stimulated by the stubbing
of a toe.
A number of chemicals help transmit pain-related information to the brain.
Some of these chemicals are natural painkilling proteins called endorphins,
Greek for "the morphine within." One theory suggests that people who
suffer from severe headache and other types of chronic pain have lower levels
of endorphins than people who are generally pain free.