Headaches and Migraines

Get the relief you deserve.

The headache experts at Novant Health specialize in diagnosing and treating all kinds of headaches and migraine symptoms so you can finally get the relief you need.

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Getting help for headaches

When seeking treatment for severe, recurring headaches, it's important to consider whether lifestyle factors may be triggering your symptoms including drinking too much alcohol and changes in sleep habits.  Other medical conditions may also be causing your headaches. If you have been diagnosed with a concussion, brain tumor, sinus or ear infection or meningitis, you may be experiencing what are called "secondary headaches."

If that's the case, you should ask the provider treating your condition how to get treated for your headaches.  If they can’t provide you relief, they can refer you to a headache expert at one of our neurology clinics.

You could, however, be experiencing "primary headaches," which are not associated with other medical conditions. These include tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches, which you can learn more about below. If your primary care provider can't provide relief for these headaches, they too can refer you to a headache expert for further evaluation and treatment.

See how Novant Health got Jocelyn Harris back to serving her country

Jocelyn Harris didn’t know she had a cyst growing in her brain. It was her neurological surgeon at Novant Health who helped her understand the cause of her debilitating headaches. It was the same surgeon who removed the cyst three days later and got Jocelyn back to doing what she loves.

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Tension headaches

Tension headache symptoms

Tension headaches may feel like an elastic band or clamp is tightening around your head. The pain and pressure typically affect both sides of the head.  You may feel irritable, achy, tired and unable to concentrate. You may also be sensitive to light and loud noises. They are more common in women than men.

Types of tension headaches

Tension headaches generally fall under one of two categories:

  • Episodic: Experienced less than 15 days a month
  • Chronic: Experienced more than 15 days a month  and last longer.

Tension headache triggers

Tension headaches are often caused by stress or muscle tightness, especially around your scalp and neck. Episodic headaches are often linked to a specific situation or stressful event, while chronic headaches are typically in response to ongoing stress. Triggers include:

  • Stress, anxiety and depression
  • Fatigue
  • Hunger and dehydration
  • Eye strain
  • Hunching, neck compression and poor posture

Treatment for tension headaches

Tension headaches are usually treated with over-the-counter pain relievers. Prescription medications may be recommended, especially if you also experience cluster headaches or migraines. For chronic tension headaches, preventative medicines like antidepressants and muscle relaxants can help prevent or reduce the severity of symptoms.

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Migraine headaches

Migraine symptoms

Migraines are moderate to severe headaches lasting at least four hours and are often debilitating. They can cause severe throbbing on one side of your head or pain that radiates across your entire head. The pain is often accompanied by extreme sensitivity to sensory stimulation from light, sounds, smells and physical contact. Other typical symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting.

Migraines may be preceded by light flashes, muscle tingling, weakness or trouble speaking.

What triggers migraine headaches?

The exact cause of migraine headaches is unknown, but it is thought that they can be caused by chemical imbalances, abnormal physical pathways in the brain and surrounding nerves, genetics, or environmental factors. Common triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Alcohol, caffeine and medication overuse
  • Hunger and dehydration
  • Exposure to natural light and certain smells
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in the weather

Treatment for Migraines

While there is no cure for migraines, over-the-counter drugs and various prescription medicines can be effective at treating severe headaches like migraines. If you opt to take medications, it’s critical to take them the moment you feel a migraine coming on.

Other treatments Novant Health provides to prevent or reduce the severity of migraines include:

  • Trigger point injections (to suppress twitching of muscles in the head, neck and shoulders that can trigger migraine attacks)
  • SphenoCath®, numbing of a nerve bundle inside the nasal cavity to provide immediate relief for severe migraines)
  • Botox® injections (to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of some migraine attacks by blocking neural pathways)
  • Anti-seizure drugs
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Antidepressants

Photo of a woman gardening holding her head in painCluster headaches

Cluster headache symptoms

Cluster headaches get their name from their tendency to come and go in clusters. You may experience them multiple times throughout the day for weeks or months at a time before they suddenly stop, only to recur later.

Cluster headaches are usually localized around your eyes, but the pain may extend into your head, neck or face. This pain is often accompanied by tearing in one or both eyes, redness, swelling or a drooping eyelid. You may also have cold-like symptoms and be sensitive to light and sound. They can be excruciating and are more common in men, but are rare, not life-threatening.

The onset of a cluster headache is usually quick. You may feel nauseous, see flashing lights or have a tingling sensation in your muscles, but these sensations don't always occur before the headache starts.

Seek immediate medical care if your symptoms cause nausea, vomiting, vision changes, extreme fatigue, seizures, paralysis or mental impairment.

Cluster headache triggers

This type of headache may be caused or exacerbated by the release of serotonin or histamine, which also initiates allergies. Cluster headache triggers include:

  • Changes in the weather
  • Alcohol, drug or tobacco use
  • Foods containing nitrites
  • High altitudes
  • Vigorous exercise
  • Light exposure

Treatment for cluster headaches

Various prescription drugs can provide relief from cluster headaches. Triptans are among the most effective and provide the fastest relief when injected.

Other treatment options include:

  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Lithium
  • Corticosteroids
  • Anti-seizure medication
  • Nerve blocks