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A headache or cephalgia is pain anywhere in the region of the head or neck. It can be a symptom of a number of different conditions of the head and neck. The brain tissue itself is not sensitive to pain because it lacks pain receptors. Rather, the pain is caused by disturbance of the pain-sensitive structures around the brain. Several areas of the head and neck have these pain-sensitive structures, which are divided in two categories: within the cranium (blood vessels, meninges, and the cranial nerves) and outside the cranium (the periosteum of the skull, muscles, nerves, arteries and veins, subcutaneous tissues, eyes, ears, sinuses and mucous membranes).
There are a number of different classification systems for headaches. The most well-recognized is that of the International Headache Society. Treatment of a headache depends on the underlying etiology or cause, but commonly involves analgesics.
Migraine (from the Greek words hemi, meaning half, and kranion, meaning skull) is a debilitating condition characterized by moderate to severe headaches, and nausea. It is about three times more common in women than in men.
The typical migraine headache is unilateral (affecting one half of the head) and pulsating in nature and lasting from 4 to 72 hours; symptoms include nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), phonophobia (increased sensitivity to sound); the symptoms are generally aggravated by routine activity. Approximately one-third of people who suffer from migraine headaches perceive an aura—unusual visual, olfactory, or other sensory experiences that are a sign that the migraine will soon occur.
Initial treatment is with analgesics for the headache, an antiemetic for the nausea, and the avoidance of triggering conditions. The cause of migraine headache is unknown; the most common theory is a disorder of the serotonergic control system.
Studies of twins indicate a 60- to 65-percent genetic influence upon their propensity to develop migraine headaches. Moreover, fluctuating hormone levels indicate a migraine relation: 75 percent of adult patients are women, although migraine affects approximately equal numbers of prepubescent boys and girls; propensity to migraine headache is known to disappear during pregnancy, although in some women migraines may become more frequent during pregnancy.
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