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Headaches and Aging

  • Category: General Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Matt Gougler
Headaches and Aging

Like death and taxes, headaches are virtually a certainty. In fact, it's estimated that upwards of 90 percent of the population will suffer from a headache at some point in their lives. While tension headaches are the most common form, there are several types of headaches specific to seniors.

This month, ATRIO Health Plans is sharing information about headaches associated with older adults.

Later-in-life headaches include:

  • Hypnic headache–These headaches are nocturnal and accompanied by throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head; pain severe enough to wake one from sleep. Hypnic headaches generally last from 30 to sixty minutes and are more common among women than men.
  • Temporal arteritis–This is a complex headache, in that it occurs when the temporal arteries, which supply blood to the head and brain, become inflamed or damaged and are painful when touched. Pain also can occur on one or both sides of the head, and is particularly acute over the impacted blood vessels. In some instances, chewing causes pain in jaw muscles. Temporal arteritis should be treated as an emergency, because it can impact blood vessels inside the head. Fortunately, steroids rapidly relieve the pain.
  • Tension headache–While tension headaches are the most common across age groups, there's a twist among older adults. If you're the rare person who hasn't experienced a tension headache, it's not unusual to develop chronic tension headaches in the senior years. This often occurs following a significant life change, such as retirement or a serious illness. Frequently, the root cause is depression triggered by a pivotal event. If depression is suspected, seek the guidance of a healthcare professional specializing in geriatric depression.
  • Transient migraine accompaniments–Older adults may experience symptoms similar to those associated with a migraine aura (e.g., weakness in extremities, visual changes) accompanied by a minor or even no headache. Frequently, the person is having a type of migraine called transient migraine accompaniments. A healthcare professional should be seen to verify the condition and rule out other possible causes, such as a transient ischemic attack (a small, short-duration stroke).
  • Headache that's a symptom–In the senior years, headaches often are a symptom of an underlying medical issue. Consequently, older adults experiencing severe or unfamiliar headaches should see their physician to determine if the headache is related to a medical problem.
  • Headache that's a side effect–Many older adults have chronic conditions requiring medication, and the side effect of many medications is headache. If this is suspected, contact your doctor. If a medication is to blame, a reduced dosage may eliminate the problem, as could switching to a different medication.

Headaches Shouldn't be Ignored

Older adults are cautioned not to dismiss headaches as an annoying but harmless condition. Headaches that are chronic, severe, or in any way unusual warrant a doctor's appointment. Seniors also are cautioned not to take over-the-counter pain relievers without first consulting with a physician, as these products might interfere with other medications or cause complications.

Headaches can be a warning sign, and most definitely shouldn't be ignored.