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What Is a Vascular Headache?

Vascular headaches are caused by blood vessels swelling in the head.
Keeping a journal can help patients identify possible headache triggers.
In many cases, vascular headaches cause nausea that increases with physical activity.
Vascular headache pain is intense and repetitive.
A vascular headache may cause vomiting.
Article Details
  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 28 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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A vascular headache occurs when the blood vessels in the tissues in a person’s head swell. These areas become inflamed and distended, which generally results in throbbing pain. There are different types of vascular headaches, so this category is not defined as just one particular headache. Common types of vascular headaches include migraines, toxic headaches, and cluster headaches.

Vascular headaches tend to share common symptoms. They typically result in a throbbing pain, which may be worsened by physical activity. Different types of migraines may also result in vision disturbances and stomach upset. A vascular headache may also result in nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light.

Migraines are the most common type of vascular headache. There are also many different types of migraines. The classic migraine presents neurological symptoms, as well as the typical pain in the head. Patients may see flashing lights or lines, or even experience a temporary loss of vision. Other patients may have confusion, weakness, or tingling, and problems speaking normally.

In contrast, common migraines do not tend to present neurological symptoms. Instead, patients may experience mood changes, lack of mental clarity, and fatigue. They may also suffer from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, as well as abnormal fluid retention.

Less common types of migraines include the benign exertional migraine. This is triggered by physical exertion, however, the pain does not often last more than a few minutes. A hemiplegic migraine can cause vertigo, vision problems, and temporary paralysis on only one side of the body.

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One type of migraine does not involve the typical head pain. This is called the headache-free migraine. Instead, patients experience other migraine symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and vision problems. At the other end of the migraine spectrum, the status migrainous causes pain that is so severe, patients may need to be hospitalized.

Migraines are just one type of vascular headache. The toxic headache is typically triggered by a fever that is associated with an infection. Examples include pneumonia and the flu. It may also occur as a result of exposure to toxins, such as carbon monoxide.

Another kind of vascular headache is called the cluster headache. Patients with one of these usually experience intense head pain in repeated episodes. These may last from 15 minutes to over three hours.

Patients who experience more than two or three vascular headaches in a month should seek medical treatment, particularly if they also have abrupt, severe pain. A doctor may recommend medication. Medications may either help prevent a vascular headache, or help relieve symptoms once it begins.

Lifestyle solutions may also be considered. Reducing stress and getting regular exercise may help. Patients may also find relief by applying cold compresses to the head. A doctor may also recommend dietary changes. Patients may also be advised to keep a journal to record any possible triggers of a vascular headache.

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