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Cephalalgia is a symptom that refers to any type of pain located in the head. There are more than 150 types, but, broadly speaking, they can be divided into two large categories: primary and secondary headaches. The primary ones represent 90% of the total, and are those in which the headache has common criteria and characteristics. The secondary ones are a consequence of another illness that involves cephalalgia and, generally, other symptoms.
Does the brain hurt?
The brain never hurts, but the pain is located in the membranes that surround it, that is, the meninges, where the sensory terminals (called nociceptors) of the trigeminal nerve are situated.
The trigeminal nerve has three branches that conduct the sensations of the blood vessels in the interior and exterior of the cranium, the meninges, the face, the mouth, and the eyes. When it is activated by certain stimuli (stress, food, smells, muscle strains, etc.), it sends messages to a cerebral nucleus called the thalamus, which in turn is connected with other areas of the brain that manage the awareness of pain and its emotional response.
Other parts of the brain, such as the hypothalamus, or the upper cervical nerves, that pick up the sensitivity of the scalp, nape of the neck, and neck, can, in turn, also activate both the nucleus and branch terminals of the trigeminal nerve. All of this can cause symptoms that, occasionally, co-exist with the headache, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty in concentrating, fatigue, yawning, watery eyes, nasal congestion, red eye, etc.
Is Cephalalgia very common?
It is estimated that cephalalgia affects approximately 50% of the adult population in the world. In the last year between 25% and 50% of adults from 18 to 65 years have had a headache in the last year, and 30% have had a migraine. A headache that is present for 15 days or more each month affects between 1.7% and 4% of the adult population in the world. Despite regional variations, cephalalgia is a problem that affects individuals of all ages, races, income levels, and geographical areas.
According to a study by the World Health Organisation (Global Burden of Disease Study 2015), cephalalgia is the sixth cause of disability in the world. Migraine is the seventh and third, in people less than 50 years-old, respectively, which is situated behind stroke, but before other neurological diseases such as dementia, meningitis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis.
Its elevated prevalence and disability involves an increased financial cost for drugs and the healthcare of the patient, as well as that arising from absenteeism and reduction in work performance.