- 6 Types of Common Headaches That You Need to Know About
- What Are the Kinds of Headaches?
- What Causes Headaches?
- Who Gets Headaches?
- When Should I Call the Doctor?
- How Can I Feel Better?
- 10 Types of Headaches: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
- Know Your Headaches
- What type of headache do you have? Different migraine types | AMF
- Migraine with Aura (Complicated Migraine)
- Migraine without Aura (Common Migraine)
- Migraine Without Head Pain
- Hemiplegic Migraine
- Retinal Migraine
- Chronic Migraine
- Ice Pick Headaches
- Cluster Headaches
- Cervicogenic headache
- Headaches – Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment
6 Types of Common Headaches That You Need to Know About
For some people, headaches are an unwelcome part of daily life. The pain always seems to hit at the most inopportune times, and getting rid of it? Well, it's not always as easy as popping some pain medication.
In fact, pain medication might be what's causing your headaches in the first place. (Annoying, we know.
) Whether your headaches pop up mostly around your period or without any sort of warning at all, here are six common types and expert advice on how to get rid of them.
1. The Tension Headache
What Causes It:
Although stress is the most common cause of tension headaches, lack of sleep, alcohol, caffeine withdrawals, and fatigue are also culprits.
How to Recognize It:
It’s usually a pain on both sides of your head, either on the temples or all around the head. Un with migraines, you generally don’t experience any nausea or light and noise sensitivity.
What to Do About It:
“Treating a tension headache depends on what the cause is,” says board-certified neurologist Alexander Mauskop, the director and founder of the New York Headache Center. “If it’s lack of sleep, it’s sleep. If it’s stress, you need to exercise, meditate, and relax. If it’s not eating, you eat, and if it’s not drinking enough water, drink up.”
He adds that while the most effective treatment is addressing the headache's underlying cause, “if you want to take medicine, there’s always Tylenol and Alleve as long as it’s not frequent.
” You don't want to be relying on meds to mask the symptoms of dehydration or sleep deprivation, for example.
And taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol's active ingredient) can lead to liver damage over time, while too much naproxen (Alleve's active ingredient) can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
2. Migraine Headache
What Causes It:
The exact cause is unknown, but it’s ly a combination of genetics and some of the same triggers that cause tension headaches, such as stress, your menstrual cycle, or even wine and chocolate. Basically, if your family members get them, it's no surprise if you get them, too.
How to Recognize It:
You’ll usually feel a throbbing pain on one side of your head that gets worse when you move your head. You might also feel nauseous and have sensitivity to light, noise, and smells.
Some people also experience visual auras for about 30 minutes before their migraine hits.
During this time, you might see what looks flashing or bright lights or experience blurred vision or the loss of vision on one side.
What to Do About It:
“It depends on the severity. For some people, sitting in a dark, quiet room and getting rid of the stimulation helps, and others will say Ibuprofen or Excedrin Migraine helps,” says Isha Gupta, general neurologist at IGEA Brain & Spine. “But if your migraines get more severe, you might end up having to take a daily medication to prevent them.”
Some people have such severe migraines that they actually turn to a surprising solution: Botox. Research has shown it's effective, and it may be an especially attractive option for people who get headaches every or almost every day. “It works on nerve endings in the scalp that send pain messages to your brain,” Mauskop explains. “The only downside is that it’s a bit expensive.”
3. Sinus Headaches
What Causes It:
Simply put, when you have pressure in the sinuses that causes head pain, you have a sinus headache. It typically comes from build-up from sinus infections or allergies.
Although it may feel it, a headache is not actually a pain in your brain. The brain tells you when other parts of your body hurt, but it can't feel pain itself.
Most headaches happen in the nerves, blood vessels, and muscles that cover a person's head and neck. Sometimes the muscles or blood vessels swell, tighten, or go through other changes that stimulate the surrounding nerves or put pressure on them. These nerves send a rush of pain messages to the brain, and this brings on a headache.
What Are the Kinds of Headaches?
The most common type of headache is a tension headache (also called a muscle-contraction headache). Tension headaches happen when stressed-out head or neck muscles squeeze too hard. This causes pain often described as:
- feeling as though someone is pressing or squeezing on the front, back, or both sides of the head
Pain that's especially sharp and throbbing can be a sign of a migraine headache. Migraine headaches aren't as common as tension headaches. But for teens who do get them, the pain can be strong enough to make them miss school or other activities if the headaches aren't treated.
One big difference between tension headaches and migraines is that migraines sometimes cause people to feel sick or even to throw up. Tension headaches typically don't cause nausea or vomiting.
Most migraines last anywhere from 30 minutes to 6 hours. Some can last as long as a couple of days. They can feel worse when someone is doing physical activity or is around light, smells, or loud sounds.
What Causes Headaches?
Lots of different things can bring on headaches. Most headaches are related to:
- infections (such as ear infections, viruses the flu or a cold, strep throat, meningitis, or sinus infections)
- computer or TV watching
- loud music
- caffeine (people who drink a lot of caffeinated drinks might get caffeine-withdrawal headaches)
- skipping meals
- lack of sleep or sudden changes in sleep patterns
- having a head injury
- taking a long trip in a car or bus
- some medicines (headaches can be a side effect)
- vision problems
- smelling strong odors such as perfume, smoke, fumes, or a new car or carpet
- some foods (such as alcohol, cheese, nuts, pizza, chocolate, ice cream, fatty or fried food, lunchmeats and hot dogs, yogurt, aspartame, and MSG)
For some teens, hormonal changes can also cause headaches. For example, some girls get headaches just before their periods or at other regular times during their monthly cycle.
Who Gets Headaches?
Headaches are common in people of all ages.
Migraine headaches often run in the family. So if a parent, grandparent, or other family member gets them, there's a chance you could get them too. Some people are sensitive to things that can bring on migraine headaches (called triggers), such as some foods, stress, changes in sleep patterns, or even the weather.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
If you think your headaches may be migraines, you'll want to see a doctor to treat them and learn ways to try to avoid getting the headaches in the first place. Sometimes relaxation exercises or changes in diet or sleeping habits are all that's needed. But if needed, a doctor also can prescribe medicine to help control the headaches.
You'll also want to see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms as well as a headache:
- changes in vision, such as blurriness or seeing spots
- tingling sensations (for example, in the arms or legs)
- skin rash
- weakness, dizziness, or difficulty walking or standing
- neck pain or stiffness
If you do see a doctor for headaches, he or she will probably want to do an exam and get your to help figure out what might be causing them.
The doctor may ask you:
- how severe and frequent your headaches are
- when they happen (to see if the headaches have a pattern or are connected to any specific foods or events)
- about any medicine you take
- about any allergies you have
- if you're feeling stressed
- about your diet, habits, sleeping patterns, and what seems to help or worsen the headaches
The doctor may also do blood tests or imaging tests, such as a CAT scan or MRI of the brain, to rule out medical problems.
Sometimes doctors will refer people with headaches they think might be migraines or a symptom of a more serious problem to a specialist a , a doctor who specializes in the brain and nervous system.
It's very rare that headaches are a sign of something serious. But see a doctor if you get headaches a lot or have a headache that:
- is particularly painful and different from the kinds of headaches you've had before
- doesn't go away easily
- follows an injury, such as hitting your head
- causes you to miss school
- happens along with any of these symptoms:
- changes in vision, such as blurriness or seeing spots
- tingling sensations (such as in the arms or legs)
- skin rash
- weakness, dizziness, or trouble walking or standing
- neck pain or stiffness
How Can I Feel Better?
Most headaches will go away if a person rests or sleeps. When you get a headache, lie down in a cool, dark, quiet room and close your eyes. It may help to put a cool, moist cloth across your forehead or eyes. Relax. Breathe easily and deeply.
If a headache doesn't go away or it's really bad, you may want to take an over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen or ibuprofen. You can buy these in drugstores under various brand names, and your drugstore may carry its own generic brand. It's a good idea to avoid taking aspirin for a headache because it may cause a rare but dangerous disease called Reye syndrome.
If you are taking over-the-counter pain medicines more than twice a week for headaches, or if you find these medicines are not working for you, talk to your doctor.
Most headaches are not a sign that something more is wrong. But if your headaches are intense and happen often, there are lots of things a doctor can do, from recommending changes in your diet to prescribing medicine. You don't have to put up with the pain!
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: September 2018
10 Types of Headaches: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments
Many of us are familiar with some form of the throbbing, uncomfortable, and distracting pain of a headache. There are different types of headaches. This article will explain 10 different types of headaches:
- tension headaches
- cluster headaches
- migraine headaches
- allergy or sinus headaches
- hormone headaches
- caffeine headaches
- exertion headaches
- hypertension headaches
- rebound headaches
- post-traumatic headaches
The World Health Organization points out that nearly everyone experiences a headache once in a while.
Although headaches can be defined as pain “in any region of the head,” the cause, duration, and intensity of this pain can vary according to the type of headache.
In some cases, a headache may require immediate medical attention. Seek immediate medical care if you’re experiencing any of the following alongside your headache:
- stiff neck
- the worst headache you’ve ever had
- slurred speech
- any fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
- paralysis in any part of your body or visual loss
If your headache is less severe, read on to learn how to identify the type of headache you may be experiencing and what you can do to ease your symptoms.
Primary headaches occur when the pain in your head is the condition. In other words, your headache isn’t being triggered by something that your body is dealing with, illness or allergies.
These headaches can be episodic or chronic:
- Episodic headaches may occur every so often or even just once in a while. They can last anywhere from half an hour to several hours.
- Chronic headaches are more consistent. They occur most days the month and can last for days at a time. In these cases, a pain management plan is necessary.
If you have a tension headache, you may feel a dull, aching sensation all over your head. It isn’t throbbing. Tenderness or sensitivity around your neck, forehead, scalp, or shoulder muscles also might occur.
Anyone can get a tension headache, and they’re often triggered by stress.
An over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever may be all it takes to relieve your occasional symptoms. This includes:
If OTC medications aren’t providing relief, your doctor may recommend prescription medication. This can include indomethacin, meloxicam (Mobic), and ketorolac.
When a tension headache becomes chronic, a different course of action may be suggested to address the underlying headache trigger.
Cluster headaches are characterized by severe burning and piercing pain. They occur around or behind one eye or on one side of the face at a time. Sometimes swelling, redness, flushing, and sweating can occur on the side that’s affected by the headache. Nasal congestion and eye tearing also often occur on the same side as the headache.
These headaches occur in a series. Each individual headache can last from 15 minutes to three hours. Most people experience one to four headaches a day, usually around the same time each day, during a cluster. After one headache resolves, another will soon follow.
A series of cluster headaches can be daily for months at a time. In the months between clusters, individuals are symptom-free. Cluster headaches are more common in the spring and fall. They are also three times more common in men.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes cluster headaches, but they do know some effective ways to treat the symptoms. Your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy, sumatriptan (Imitrex) or local anesthetic (lidocaine) to provide pain relief.
After a diagnosis is made, your doctor will work with you to develop a prevention plan. Corticosteroids, melatonin, topiramate (Topamax), and calcium channel blockers may put your cluster headaches into a period of remission.
Migraine pain is an intense pulsing from deep within your head. This pain can last for days. The headache significantly limits your ability to carry out your daily routine. Migraine is throbbing and usually one-sided. People with migraine headaches are often sensitive to light and sound. Nausea and vomiting also usually occur.
Some migraine is preceded by visual disturbances. About one five people will experience these symptoms before the headache starts. Known as an aura, it may cause you to see:
- flashing lights
- shimmering lights
- zigzag lines
- blind spots
Auras can also include tingling on one side of your face or in one arm and trouble speaking. However, the symptoms of a stroke can also mimic a migraine, so if any of these symptoms are new to you, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Migraine attacks might run in your family, or they can be associated with other nervous system conditions. Women are three times more ly to develop migraine than men. People with post-traumatic stress disorder also have an increased risk for migraine.
Certain environmental factors, such as sleep disruption, dehydration, skipped meals, some foods, hormone fluctuations, and exposure to chemicals are common migraine triggers.
If OTC pain relievers don’t reduce your migraine pain during an attack, your doctor might prescribe triptans. Triptans are drugs that decrease inflammation and change the flow of blood within your brain. They come in the form of nasal sprays, pills, and injections.
Popular options include:
- sumatriptan (Imitrex)
- rizatriptan (Maxalt)
- rizatriptan (Axert)
If you experience headaches that are debilitating more than three days a month, headaches that are somewhat debilitating four days a month, or any headaches at least six days per month, talk to your doctor about taking a daily medication to prevent your headaches.
Research shows that preventative medications are significantly underused. Only 3 to 13 percent of those with migraine take preventive medication, while up to 38 percent actually need it. Preventing migraine greatly improves quality of life and productivity.
Useful preventative medications include:
- propranolol (Inderal)
- metoprolol (Toprol)
- topiramate (Topamax)
Secondary headaches are a symptom of something else that is going on in your body. If the trigger of your secondary headache is ongoing, it can become chronic. Treating the primary cause generally brings headache relief.
Headaches sometimes happen as a result of an allergic reaction. The pain from these headaches is often focused in your sinus area and in the front of your head.
Migraine headaches are commonly misdiagnosed as sinus headaches. In fact, up to 90 percent of “sinus headaches” are actually migraine. People who have chronic seasonal allergies or sinusitis are susceptible to these kinds of headaches.
Sinus headaches are treated by thinning out the mucus that builds up and causes sinus pressure. Nasal steroid sprays, OTC decongestants such as phenylephrine (Sudafed PE), or antihistamines such as cetirizine (Zyrtec D Allergy + Congestion) may help with this.
A sinus headache can also be a symptom of a sinus infection. In these cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection and relieve your headache and other symptoms.
Women commonly experience headaches that are linked to hormonal fluctuations. Menstruation, birth control pills, and pregnancy all affect your estrogen levels, which can cause a headache. Those headaches associated specifically with the menstrual cycle are also known as menstrual migraine. These can occur right before, during, or right after menses, as well as during ovulation.
OTC pain relievers naproxen (Aleve) or prescription medications frovatripan (Frova) can work to control this pain.
It’s estimated that about 60 percent of women with migraine also experience menstrual migraine, so alternative remedies may have a role in decreasing overall headaches per month. Relaxation techniques, yoga, acupuncture, and eating a modified diet may help prevent migraine headaches.
Caffeine affects blood flow to your brain. Having too much can give you a headache, as can quitting caffeine “cold turkey.” People who have frequent migraine are at risk of triggering a headache due to their caffeine use.
When you’re used to exposing your brain to a certain amount of caffeine, a stimulant, each day, you might get a headache if you don’t get your caffeine fix. This may be because caffeine changes your brain chemistry, and withdrawal from it can trigger a headache.
Not everyone who cuts back on caffeine will experience a withdrawal headache. Keeping your caffeine intake at a steady, reasonable level — or quitting it entirely — can prevent these headaches from happening.
Exertion headaches happen quickly after periods of intense physical activity. Weight lifting, running, and sexual intercourse are all common triggers for an exertion headache. It’s thought that these activities cause increased blood flow to your skull, which can lead to a throbbing headache on both sides of your head.
An exertion headache shouldn’t last too long. This type of headache usually resolves within a few minutes or several hours. Analgesics, such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil), should ease your symptoms.
If you develop exertion headaches, make sure to see your doctor. In some cases, they may be a sign of a serious underlying medication condition.
High blood pressure can cause you to have a headache, and this kind of headache signals an emergency. This occurs when your blood pressure becomes dangerously high.
A hypertension headache will usually occur on both sides of your head and is typically worse with any activity. It often has a pulsating quality. You may also experience changes in vision, numbness or tingling, nosebleeds, chest pain, or shortness of breath.
If you think you’re experiencing a hypertension headache, you should seek immediate medical attention.
You’re more ly to develop this type of headache if you’re treating high blood pressure.
These types of headaches typically go away soon after the blood pressure is under better control. They shouldn’t reoccur as long as high blood pressure continues to be managed.
Rebound headaches, also known as medication overuse headaches, can feel a dull, tension-type headache, or they may feel more intensely painful, a migraine.
You may be more susceptible to this type of headache if you frequently use OTC pain relievers. Overuse of these medications leads to more headaches, rather than fewer.
Rebound headaches are lier to occur any time OTC medications acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen are used more than 15 days a month. They’re also more common with medications that contain caffeine.
The only treatment for rebound headaches is to wean yourself off of the medication that you’ve been taking to control pain. Although the pain may worsen at first, it should completely subside within a few days.
A good way to prevent medication overuse headaches is to take a preventative daily medicine that doesn’t cause rebound headaches and prevents the headaches from occurring to begin with.
Post-traumatic headaches can develop after any type of head injury. These headaches feel migraine or tension-type headaches, and usually last up to 6 to 12 months after your injury occurs. They can become chronic.
Triptans, sumatriptan (Imitrex), beta-blockers, and amitriptyline are often prescribed to control the pain from these headaches.
In most cases, episodic headaches will go away within 48 hours. If you have a headache that lasts more than two days or that increases in intensity, you should see your doctor for assistance.
If you’re getting headaches more than 15 days the month over a period of three months, you might have a chronic headache condition. You should see your doctor to find out what’s wrong, even if you’re able to manage the pain with aspirin or ibuprofen.
Headaches can be a symptom of more serious health conditions, and some do require treatment beyond OTC medications and home remedies.
Know Your Headaches
Headaches can be a real pain. Almost everybody gets them at some point, making them one of the most common health complaints. While all headaches are associated with pain or discomfort in the head or face, there are more than 100 different kinds, with varying symptoms and intensity.
Some will require medical attention, and others can be treated with over-the-counter medication or home remedies. Some—known as secondary headaches—are caused by underlying medical conditions, while others stand alone as the main medical problem; those are called primary headaches.
The most common types of headaches that cause people to seek medical care are primary headaches—tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Stress and muscle tension are thought to play a role, as are genetics and environment.
Symptoms usually include moderate pain on or around both sides of the head, and/or pain in the back of the head and neck. Tension headaches build slowly and are not usually associated with nausea or vomiting.
They can be chronic, occurring often or even every day.
Tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers if they occur only occasionally, but a chronic condition may require prescription medication. Your doctor may suggest a tricyclic antidepressant or muscle relaxant, along with good sleep hygiene, regular exercise, or relaxation techniques such as massage or yoga.
Migraine headaches often involve intense, throbbing pain that may be accompanied by nausea or vomiting, light sensitivity, and loss of appetite.
Women make up 75% of migraine sufferers, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Migraines can last several days and run in families, indicating a possible genetic cause.
They may also be linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Treatment depends on frequency and severity. Your doctor may prescribe a so-called rescue medication, to be taken for immediate relief, and/or a preventative drug to help avoid future migraines.
“Most migraines are mild and infrequent and can be managed on their own with over-the-counter medication,” says Dr. Ronald Andiman, neurologist and director of the Cedars-Sinai Headache Clinic. “If they become debilitating, that’s when they require medical attention.”
Cluster headaches are characterized by sudden-onset severe pain, generally behind one eye. They are the most severe type of headache, but are less common than tension headaches and migraines. Cluster headaches tend to occur in groups, sometimes daily or multiple times a day. They last 1-3 hours and pain recurs in the same way each time.
Cluster headaches can be brought on by alcohol or tobacco use, bright light, heat, and foods that contain nitrates, such as lunch meat or bacon. While there is no known cure, your doctor can recommend ways to mitigate the pain.
Options may include lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking; oxygen treatment; Verapamil, a medication that relaxes blood vessels; or Prednisone, a steroid medication to reduce inflammation and swelling.
If you have any type of headaches consistently, it’s important to speak with your primary care physician so they can help create a treatment plan or refer you to a specialist.
“If your headaches are increasing in frequency or severity, or are interfering with your usual activities, see a doctor,” says Dr. Andiman.
Seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing the worst headache you’ve ever had, lose vision or consciousness, have uncontrollable vomiting, or if your headache lasts more than 72 hours with less than 4 hours pain-free.
What type of headache do you have? Different migraine types | AMF
When people hear the term ‘migraine,’ they often think of a severe headache. What they don’t always know is that migraine is a neurological disease and that there are a number of different subtypes of migraine. Find out about the different types of migraine below.
Migraine with Aura (Complicated Migraine)
About a quarter of people who experience migraine also experienceaura, a series of sensory and visual changes that can range from seeing black dots and zig zags to tingling numbness on one side of the body, or an inability to speak clearly. Aura sets in shortly before or during a migraine and can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Aura is the second of migraine’s four stages, and anyone who experiences it will confirm it is an unmistakable warning sign that the severe head pain is on its way.
Migraine without Aura (Common Migraine)
Diagnosing migraine without aura can be difficult because the symptoms are similar to several other types of migraine.
Pulsing or throbbing pain on one side of the head, photophobia, phonophobia, pain that is made worse by physical activity, and nausea and vomiting are all classic symptoms of Migraine without Aura.
The key differentiator is that Common Migraine lacks the warning phases (prodrome and aura) that other types of migraine have.
Migraine Without Head Pain
Also called a Silent or Acephalgic Migraine, this type of migraine can be very alarming as you experience dizzying aura and other visual disturbances, nausea, and other phases of migraine, but no head pain.
It can be triggered by any of a person’s regular triggers, and those who get them are ly to experience other types of migraine, too.
The International Headache Society classifies this type as typical aura without headache.
If you have ever had a migraine that felt more a stroke, it was probably a Hemiplegic Migraine.
People who experience this type of migraine develop weakness on one side of the body, often with visual aura symptoms and a “pins and needles” sensation, or loss of sensation, on one side of the body.
It can last for as little as a few hours to several days. Similar to typical aura without headache, Hemiplegic Migraine doesn’t always include severe head pain.
When a headache causes you to temporarily lose vision in one eye, it is a Retinal Migraine. Most common in women during their childbearing years, the blindness can last anywhere from a minute to months, but is usually fully reversible.
This is a specific type of aura that accompanies a migraine, and it’s a condition we know very little about.
What we do know is that Retinal Migraine may be a sign of a more serious issue, and those who experience it should make a point to see a specialist.
If you have a headache more than 15 days a month, you’re probably suffering from chronic migraine. Many of the days often feel typical migraine, but there may be considerable variability in the severity of the symptoms and head pain on any given day.
Some days patients may mistake the pain for a “tension-headache” or “sinus headache” if the pain is less severe.
Many patients with chronic migraine also use acute headache pain medications on more than 10-15 days per month, and this can actually lead to even more frequent headache.
Ice Pick Headaches
Ice pick headaches are pretty self-explanatory. They feel you’re getting stabbed in the head with an ice pick. They often come on suddenly, delivering an intense, sharp pain. They’re short–usually only lasting 5-30 seconds–but incredibly painful.
These headaches occur on the orbit, temple, and parietal area of your head. That’s where your trigeminal nerve is, which is the nerve in your face that’s responsible for biting and chewing, as well as face sensation. The nerve is on the side of your head just past your eye and above your ear.
If you get sharp pains in this area, chances are you’re getting ice pick headaches.
This is one of the most severe types of pain that a human can experience. With cluster headaches, you’ll feel an almost burning pain around and above your eyes, at your temples, and even moving toward the back of your head.
You’ll often also get red or swollen eyes or a runny nose, among other symptoms.
Because they occur in such a large area and provoke other symptoms, cluster headaches can be the most irritating headache, and are sometimes referred to as “suicide headaches.”
When the pain in your head is actually caused by pain in your neck, you probably have a cervicogenic headache. The pain usually comes from the neck or from a lesion on the spine, which is often confused with pain in the back of your head. It’s common for this type of headache to require physical therapy in addition to medication or other treatment.
Pinpointing the cause of headache is sometimes complicated. There are many types, and many methods of treatment. Focusing on where exactly your head hurts and the accompanying symptoms can help you and your doctor determine what type of migraine or headache you suffer from, resulting in a more effective treatment plan and fewer painful days.
Looking for a doctor? Check out our database to find a doctor in your area.
Headaches – Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment
Headaches can be more complicated than most people realize. Different kinds can have their own set of symptoms, happen for unique reasons, and need different treatments.
Once you know the type of headache you have, you and your doctor can find the treatment that’s most ly to help and even try to prevent them.
There are over 150 types of headaches, but the most common types include:
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache among adults and teens. They cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over time. They usually have no other symptoms.
Migraine headaches are often described as pounding, throbbing pain. They can last from 4 hours to 3 days and usually happen one to four times a month.
Along with the pain, people have other symptoms, such as sensitivity to light, noise, or smells; nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite; and upset stomach or belly pain.
When a child has a migraine, she may look pale, feel dizzy, and have blurry vision, fever, and an upset stomach. A small number of children's migraines include digestive symptoms, vomiting, that happen about once a month.
These headaches are the most severe. You could have intense burning or piercing pain behind or around one eye. It can be throbbing or constant.
The pain can be so bad that most people with cluster headaches can’t sit still and will often pace during an attack.
On the side of the pain, the eyelid droops, the eye reddens, pupil gets smaller, or the eye makes tears. The nostril on that side runs or stuffs up.
They’re called cluster headaches because they tend to happen in groups. You might get them one to three times per day during a cluster period, which may last 2 weeks to 3 months.
Each headache attack lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours. They can wake you up from sleep. The headaches may disappear completely (your doctor will call this remission) for months or years, only to come back later.
Men are three to four times more ly to get them than women.
Chronic Daily Headaches
You have this type of headache 15 days or more a month for longer than 3 months. Some are short. Others last more than 4 hours. It’s usually one of the four types of primary headache:
- Chronic migraine
- Chronic tension headache
- New daily persistent headache
- Hemicrania continua
With sinus headaches, you feel a deep and constant pain in your cheekbones, forehead, or on the bridge of your nose. They happen when cavities in your head, called sinuses, get inflamed.
The pain usually comes along with other sinus symptoms, a runny nose, fullness in the ears, fever, and a swollen face.
A true sinus headache results from a sinus infection so the gunk that comes your nose will be yellow or green, un the clear discharge in cluster or migraine headaches.
Posttraumatic stress headaches usually starts 2-3 days after a head injury. You’ll feel:
- A dull ache that gets worse from time to time
- Trouble concentrating
- Memory problems
- Tiring quickly
Headaches may last for a few months. But if it doesn’t get better within a couple of weeks, call your doctor.
When you’re active, the muscles in your head, neck, and scalp need more blood. Your blood vessels swell to supply them. The result is a pulsing pain on both sides of your head that can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 48 hours. It usually hits while you’re active or just afterward, whether the activity is exercise or sex.
Hemicrainia continua is a chronic, ongoing headache almost always affects the same side of your face and head. Other symptoms include:
- Pain that varies in severity
- Red or teary eyes
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Droopy eyelid
- Contracted iris
- Responds to the pain medication indomethacin
- Worse pain with physical activity
- Worse pain with drinking alcohol
Some people also notice migraine symptoms :
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light and sound
There are two types:
- Chronic: You have daily headaches.
- Remitting: You have headaches for 6 months. They go away for a period of weeks or months and come back.
You can get headaches from shifting hormone levels during your periods, pregnancy, and menopause. The hormone changes from birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can also trigger headaches. When they happen 2 days before your period or in the first 3 days after it starts, they’re called menstrual migraines.
New Daily Persistent Headaches (NDPH)
These may start suddenly and can go on for 3 months or longer. Many people clearly remember the day their pain began.
Doctors aren't sure why this type of headache starts. Some people find that it strikes after an infection, flu- illness, surgery, or stressful event.
The pain tends to be moderate, but for some people, it's severe. And it's often hard to treat.
Symptoms can vary widely. Some are tension headaches. Others share symptoms of migraine, such as nausea or sensitivity to light.
Call your doctor if your headache won't go away or if it's severe.
You might also hear these called medication overuse headaches. If you use a prescription or over-the-counter pain reliever more than two or three times a week, or more than 10 days a month, you’re setting yourself up for more pain. When the meds wear off, the pain comes back and you have to take more to stop it. This can cause a dull, constant headache that’s often worse in the morning.
Ice Pick Headaches
These short, stabbing, intense headaches usually only last a few seconds. They might happen a few times a day at most. If you have one, see the doctor. Ice pick headaches can be a condition on their own, or they can be a symptom of something else.
Talk to your doctor if you get a headache after you have a spinal tap, a spinal block, or an epidural. Your doctor might call it a puncture headache because these procedures involve piercing the membrane that surrounds your spinal cord. If spinal fluid leaks through the puncture site, it can cause a headache.
People often call this the worst headache of your life. It comes suddenly nowhere and peaks quickly. Causes of thunderclap headaches include:
- Blood vessel tear, rupture, or blockage
- Head injury
- Hemorrhagic stroke from a ruptured blood vessel in your brain
- Ischemic stroke from a blocked blood vessel in your brain
- Narrowed blood vessels surrounding the brain
- Inflamed blood vessels
- Blood pressure changes in late pregnancy
Take a sudden new headache seriously. It’s often the only warning sign you get of a serious problem.
The pain you feel during a headache comes from a mix of signals between your brain, blood vessels, and nearby nerves. Specific nerves in your blood vessels and head muscles switch on and send pain signals to your brain. But it isn’t clear how these signals get turned on in the first place.
Common causes of headaches include:
- Illness. This can include infections, colds, and fevers. Headaches are also common with conditions sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), a throat infection, or an ear infection. In some cases, headaches can result from a blow to the head or, rarely, a sign of a more serious medical problem.
- Stress. Emotional stress and depression as well as alcohol use, skipping meals, changes in sleep patterns, and taking too much medication. Other causes include neck or back strain due to poor posture.
- Your environment, including secondhand tobacco smoke, strong smells from household chemicals or perfumes, allergens, and certain foods. Stress, pollution, noise, lighting, and weather changes are other possible triggers.
- Genetics. Headaches, especially migraine headaches, tend to run in families. Most children and teens (90%) who have migraines have other family members who get them. When both parents have a history of migraines, there is a 70% chance their child will also have them. If only one parent has a history of these headaches, the risk drops to 25%-50%.
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes migraines. A popular theory is that triggers cause unusual brain activity, which leads to changes in the blood vessels there. Some forms of migraines are linked to genetic problems in certain parts of the brain.
Too much physical activity can also trigger a migraine in adults.
Once you get your headaches diagnosed correctly, you can start the right treatment plan for your symptoms.
The first step is to talk to your doctor about your headaches. They’ll give you a physical exam and ask you about the symptoms you have and how often they happen.
It’s important to be as complete as possible with these descriptions. Give your doctor a list of things that cause your headaches, things that make them worse, and what helps you feel better.
You can track details in a headache diary to help your doctor diagnose your problem.
Most people don’t need special diagnostic tests. But sometimes, doctors suggest a CT scan or MRI to look for problems inside your brain that might cause your headaches. Skull X-rays won’t help. An EEG (electroencephalogram) is also unnecessary unless you’ve passed out when you had a headache.
If your headache symptoms get worse or happen more often despite treatment, ask your doctor to refer you to a headache specialist.
Your doctor may recommend different types of treatment to try. They also might suggest more testing or refer you to a headache specialist.
The type of headache treatment you need will depend on a lot of things, including the type of headache you get, how often, and its cause. Some people don’t need medical help at all. But those who do might get medications, electronic medical devices, counseling, stress management, and biofeedback. Your doctor will make a treatment plan to meet your specific needs.
Once you start a treatment program, keep track of how well it’s working. A headache diary can help you note any patterns or changes in how you feel. Know that it may take some time for you and your doctor to find the best treatment plan, so try to be patient. Be honest with them about what is and isn’t working for you.
Even though you’re getting treatment, you should still steer clear of the things you know can trigger your headaches, foods or smells.
And it’s important to stick to healthy habits that will keep you feeling good, regular exercise, enough sleep, and a healthy diet.
Also, make your scheduled follow-up appointments so your doctor can see how you’re doing and make changes in the treatment program if you need them.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
National Headache Foundation.
American Migraine Foundation: “Primary Exercise Headache,” “Primary Stabbing Headache (Ice Pick Headache).”
Cleveland Clinic: “Exercise and Headaches.”
The Migraine Trust: “Medication-overuse headache.”
Mayo Clinic: “Chronic daily headaches,” “Spinal headaches,” “Thunderclap headaches.”
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