Nonzwakazi Cekete
3 minute read
5 Mar 2021
9:15 am

Know your headache – migraine, cluster or tension?

Nonzwakazi Cekete

Most headaches aren’t caused by serious medical problems, but in rare instances they can be associated with life-threatening conditions such as brain infections and stroke, which is why it's important to know what's causing your headache

Although over-the-counter medication can calm your headache, it is important to consult with your doctor to find out what the trigger is, especially if it comes in episodes. Picture: iStock

If you are getting more headaches than usual, don’t despair – you are not alone. Dr Elfrieda Fourie, an aesthetics medical doctor at Anti-Aging Art, says she has noticed a rise in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) related headaches caused by jaw tension, clenching and teeth grinding.

“This is undoubtedly linked to the increase in stress and anxiety many are riddled with,” she says. And understandably so, as many South Africans have been under a lot of pressure and financial strain as the result of the lockdown.  Experts agree that understanding your headaches and what causes them can help you manage them.

Here are some of the most common types of headaches to watch out for:


The causes of migraines are poorly understood but they tend to run in families. Migraines involve moderate to very strong pounding, piercing and throbbing pain, most commonly on just one side of the head. The pain can be so severe that it prevents you from doing just about any normal activities.

Some people experience so-called auras before the actual pain sets in, during which they may see flashes of light, lines or spots. Common migraine symptoms include a loss of appetite, an upset stomach, nausea, blurred vision, dizziness and fever. Resting in a quiet dark room with hot or cold compresses to the neck or head can reduce the soreness.

ALSO READ: Sulphur smell has Pretoria residents worried, as some complain of headaches

Cluster headaches

You may experience between one and three daily episodes, each lasting 15 to 45 minutes or more, over a stretch of several weeks or months. These periods are followed by months without headaches. Although not particularly common, these are excruciatingly painful and typically involve sudden, throbbing or constant, piercing or burning aches, normally located around or behind one of the eyes. In many cases, the effects are so bad that the sufferer is completely debilitated and can’t sit still or lie down for the duration of the attack.

Tension headaches

These are sometimes called chronic daily headaches and are common among both adults and children. Experts believe it is often in response to physical or mental strain

The constant is mild to moderate ache or pressure on both sides of the head that some sufferers compare it to having a tight band strapped across the front of the head. Common causes may include changes in sleeping patterns, depression, stress connected to problems with family and friends or at school or work, abuse of alcohol and skipping meals.

If your headaches are worrying you, or become a serious problem in your life, consult a medical professional. This is especially important if they are accompanied by other symptoms, such as muscle weakness, a loss of coordination, or slurred speech.

More about the expert: 

Dr Elfrieda Fourie is certified by the American Academy of Aesthetic Medicine and is accredited by the Health Professions Council of South Africa. She is a member of the Aesthetic and Anti-Aging Medicine Society of South Africa. Learn more about Dr Elfrieda Fourie here

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