Do you take pain medication more than 2 or 3 days a week?

Medication-overuse headaches can affect anyone who has migraines, tension-type headaches or other chronic headaches and uses pain relievers several times a month. Sometimes called rebound headaches, medication-overuse headaches:

  • Are often described as dull, achy, throbbing or pounding
  • May awaken you early in the morning and continue throughout the day
  • May be most severe at first, when the medication begins to wear off
  • Occur daily or nearly daily
  • May involve nausea or irritability

The only way to stop medication-overuse headaches is to reduce or stop taking the medication that's contributing to these headaches. Talk to your doctor about whether you should quit taking the medication or taper off gradually.

Do the headaches follow a specific activity?

Uncommon primary headaches, also known as exertional headaches, can occur as a result of exercise, sex, bouts of coughing or other activities. Before diagnosing an uncommon primary headache, your doctor may recommend tests, such as an MRI, to determine that nothing serious is causing your headaches. Each type of exertional headache has its own set of characteristics.

Exercise-induced headaches:

  • Are often described as throbbing
  • Affect both sides of your head
  • May last from several minutes to 48 hours

Sex headaches:

  • May begin as a dull ache, with the pain escalating just prior to orgasm
  • May be explosive and throbbing, occurring just at the moment of orgasm
  • Can last from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on what type you experience

Cough headaches:

  • Are typically sharp and stabbing in quality
  • Affect both sides of your head
  • May last from a few seconds to a few minutes

Uncommon primary headaches are unusual, but if your headaches are predictable or chronic, your doctor may prescribe preventive medicine.

Recognize emergency symptoms

Seek emergency evaluation if any of the following features are present.

  • Sudden onset of severe headache
  • Onset after a head injury or fall
  • Fever, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking
  • Pain worsens despite rest and over-the-counter pain medication

These symptoms suggest a more serious underlying condition, so it's important to get prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Take control

Almost everyone gets headaches, and most are nothing to worry about. But if headaches are disrupting your daily activities, work or personal life, it's time to take action. Headaches can't always be prevented, but your doctor can help you manage the symptoms.

Aug. 17, 2012 See more In-depth