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A headache is pain or discomfort in the head or face area. Headaches vary greatly in terms of pain location, pain intensity and how frequently they occur. Several categories of headache have been created by the International Headache Society to more precisely define specific types of headaches.

What causes a headache?

Headaches may be caused by a number of conditions, such as disorders of the neck, eyes, brain, jaw or teeth. Headaches with an underlying medical condition are classified as secondary headaches because they are related to the condition. An example of this would be a headache due to neck injury or sinus infection.

Other headaches are classified as primary because the headache itself is the main medical problem, although underlying non-medical causes, such as muscle tension or foods, may be identified. Other contributing factors may include medications, dehydration or changing levels of hormones. These factors that influence headaches are sometimes called headache triggers.

For what types of headaches can I get treatment at Missouri Neurosciences Center?

  • Cluster
  • Migraines
  • Tension

What are the most serious symptoms of a headache?

Headache symptoms depend upon the type of headache. The frequency of headaches and the intensity of the symptoms may vary as well. Symptoms that may suggest a more serious headache include any of the following:

  • Changes in vision
  • Headache that starts early in the morning
  • Headache that  becomes more severe or continuous
  • Pain that is worsened by strain, such as a cough or a sneeze
  • Personality changes
  • Seizures or epilepsy
  • Sudden onset of pain and the "worst headache" ever
  • Vomiting without nausea
  • Weakness in the arms or legs

To schedule an appointment with one of our headache specialists, please call (573) 882-1515.


How are headaches diagnosed?
The full extent of the problem may not be understood immediately, but may be revealed with a comprehensive medical evaluation and diagnostic testing. The diagnosis of a headache is made with a combination of a careful history, physical examination and diagnostic tests.

Questions commonly asked during the exam may include:

  • When do the headaches occur?
  • What is the location of the headache?
  • What do the headaches feel like?
  • How long do the headaches last?
  • Have there been changes in behavior or personality?
  • Do changes in position or sitting up cause the headache?
  • Do you have trouble sleeping?
  • Do you have a history of stress?
  • Is there a history of head injury?

If the history is consistent with migraine or tension-type headaches and the neurological exam is normal, no further diagnostic testing may be necessary. If not, other tests may be needed to determine the cause.

Tests used to determine the cause of a headache may include:

  • Blood tests
  • CT scan (taken by a machine that combines multiple images into multidimensional views, more detailed than a typical x-ray)
  • MRI
  • Sinus x-rays

What are the treatments for headaches?
Specific treatment for headaches will be determined by our expert team and based on:

  • Severity and frequency of the headaches
  • Type of headaches
  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Your opinion or preference

The ultimate goal is to stop headaches from occurring. Adequate headache management depends on the accurate identification of the type of headache and may include:

  • Avoiding known triggers, such as certain foods and beverages, lack of sleep and fasting
  • Changing eating habits
  • Exercise
  • Medications, as recommended by your physician
  • Resting in a quiet, dark environment
  • Stress management

Migraine headaches may require specific medication management including:

  • Abortive medications (medications that act on specific receptors in nerves and blood vessels in the head to stop a headache in progress)
  • Rescue medications (over-the-counter medications, such as pain relievers)
    Preventive medications (medications that are taken daily to reduce the onset of severe migraine headaches)

Some headaches may require immediate medical attention including hospitalization for observation, diagnostic testing or even surgery. Treatment is individualized depending on the underlying condition causing the headache. Full recovery depends on the type of headache and other medical problems that may be present.

To schedule an appointment with one of our headache specialists, please call (573) 882-1515.



  • Neurology Clinic
    Neurology Clinic


    1020 Hitt St
    3rd Floor (East)
    Columbia, MO 65212-0001


To schedule an appointment with any of our neurologists, please call 573-882-1515.

To schedule an appointment with one of our neurosurgeons, please call 573-882-4908.

To have someone from the Sleep Disorders Center contact you, fill out our online form.

Learn more about the Comprehensive Spine Center at University of Missouri Health Care.

Neuroscience Awards and Accreditations


The Missouri Stroke Program has been certified as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission.       

In 2015, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services designated the Missouri Stroke Program as one of the state’s first Level I Missouri State Time Critical Diagnosis Centers, the highest recognition a hospital can receive for its stroke program.

The Missouri Stroke Program has received the Stroke Gold Plus Performance Achievement Award from Get With The Guidelines®, a hospital-based quality improvement program developed by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.

The Missouri Stroke Program has also been named to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Target: Stroke Honor Roll.


The Missouri Epilepsy Program is recognized by the National Association of Epilepsy Center as a Level 4 epilepsy center.