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Diagnosis and Research

We think of pain as a signal of injury. However, that generally isn't the case with headaches. Headaches represent a disturbance in the pain sensing system itself. Think of a car alarm that goes off without any obvious reason. Headaches occur when the pain sensing system goes "off" for no apparent reason.

Distinguishing those headaches that are serious from the common benign ones is not easy. Please note: this Web page is for educational and informational purposes only.

Uncovering the cause of headaches is difficult.  Patients report headaches of varying intensity, location on the head, frequency and persistence. Plus, many different symptoms may occur in association with the pain.

Descriptions of the pain include throbbing, steady, pressing or squeezing. Often, the pain is felt near the eyes, reflecting the large number of nerve endings surrounding the eyes. Discomfort can also be felt at the top of the head or across the forehead.

However, the location of the pain by itself does not usually tell us much about to the cause of the headache, compounding the problem of diagnosis.

The International Headache Society (IHS) has established a classification scheme, which distinguishes different types of headache. However, this classification is complex and difficult to use; it does not help most patients know what is wrong with them.

As well, headache research holds special challenges. After all, can you ask a mouse if she has a headache? As a result, some types of laboratory studies, which are used in other medical conditions, cannot be applied to headache. 

Recent research has brought progress and most sufferers are helped by modern therapies and treatments. Relief is more readily available than ever before.