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Headaches and Migraines

​Headaches and Migraines: What is it

Headaches are very common and nearly everyone will have had one at some point. Most headaches are not an indication of a sinister cause and will resolve on its own or with simple painkillers.

However, some headaches may recur frequently or may be severe and start to affect your lifestyle, causing concern and anxiety. Medical attention should be sought, when one experiences headaches that are frequent or severe.

Types of Recurring Headaches

The two most common types of headaches that recur are migraine and tension headaches.


  • Can be on one or both sides of the head
  • Usually throbbing in nature
  • Moderate to severe
  • May last few hours to a few days
  • May be precipitated by certain food (caffeine, cheese, alcohol), sleep pattern, menstrual cycle
  • Worsened by bright lights, noise, physical activities
  • Often with associated nausea and/ or vomiting
  • May be associated with visual (e.g. seeing zigzag lines) and sensory (e.g. tingling of face or limbs) symptoms
  • May run in families

Tension headache

  • Tight band pressing around head
  • Dull, steady pain
  • Mild to moderate
  • May last from 30 minutes to 7 days
  • May be precipitated by stress, anxiety, fatigue
  • May be associated with neck ache

When Do You Need To See A Doctor?

You should consult your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Frequent headaches recurring more than once a week
  • First or the worst headache in your life
  • New or persistent headache after head injury
  • Headache that begins after age of 50
  • New headache with a history of cancer, autoimmune disease or HIV
  • Take daily painkillers or exceed recommended dose
  • Change in regular headache pain or pattern
  • Headache associated with neck stiffness or fever
  • Headache associated with giddiness, unsteady gait, slurred speech, weakness or numbness
  • Headache associated with confusion or drowsiness

Treatment of Headaches and Migraines

Your doctor will advise on your treatment specifically. Headache treatment usually involves pharmacological treatment with medications as well as lifestyle modifications. If you suffer from recurring headaches, you should keep a headache diary to help ascertain the headache pattern, identify any triggering factors as well as monitor your condition and response to treatment.

Pharmacological treatment

This may be divided into two main approaches.

  • Symptomatic treatment – for immediate relief of pain, this should be taken periodically when the symptoms occur
  • Prophylactic treatment – to prevent or reduce the frequency of the headache, this is usually taken regularly whether or not the symptoms are present

Lifestyle modifications

You can reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches by simple lifestyle changes, sometimes without even taking any medication:

  1. Regular sleep – go to bed and wake up at regular times each day. Most adults need six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep
  2. Regular meals - eat regularly and maintain a balanced diet to avoid sugar highs and lows.
  3. Moderate amount of routine exercise
  4. Drink plenty of water
  5. Limit caffeine, alcohol and other drugs
  6. Reduce stress
  7. Avoid smoking
  8. Avoid known trigger factors - If you have known triggers for your headache, try to avoid them

Please consult your Family Doctor if you have any concerns about your health.

Specialist services available at the following SingHealth institutions:

Singapore General Hospital
Tel: 6321 4377

National Neuroscience Institute
Tel: 6357 7095