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Almost half of the global adult population is affected by headaches, making them one of the most common disorders affecting the nervous system. It is not the intensity of the pain but the pain itself, which causes you to give up carrying out even the simplest of tasks.
Headaches can be caused by various reasons including diet, level of hydration, work and home environments, as well as your overall health. In most cases, headaches are relatively harmless, however, in some cases, it can be an indication of severe health problems such as stroke, brain tumour or aneurysm.
Studies have pointed out that the type of headaches you get is an indication of your health problems. That is, the types can reveal the root causes which could be impacting your overall health. Therefore today we will take a look at the different types of headaches.
Types Of Headaches
Headaches can be difficult to describe sometimes, but the common symptoms include throbbing, squeezing, constant, or intermittent pain . Headaches can arise spontaneously or may be associated with activity or exercise, having an acute onset or it may be chronic in nature.
Head pain can be classified as being one of three types, primary headache, secondary headache and cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches . Although headaches can be defined as pain in any region of the head, the cause, duration, and intensity of pain can vary according to the type of headache.
A. Primary Headaches
A primary headache is when the headache itself is the problem. That is, the headache is not triggered by an external factor, something that your body is dealing with, like illness or allergies . Primary headaches can be episodic or chronic, where episodic headaches occur every so often or even just once in a while and last from half an hour to several hours. Chronic headaches are consistent and occur on most days and can last for days. Common primary headaches include tension, migraine and cluster headaches .
Now, let's take a look at the types of primary headaches.
1. Migraine Headaches
Migraine is the most common form of headache, but not all headaches are migraines . It is an intense pulsing from deep within your head and can last for days. Migraine usually, but not always, affects the one side of the head. Migraine headaches are often associated with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and/or a sound . Increasingly reported in women, the cause of migraine headaches is not clear. However, the causes have been linked with genes and brain cell activity and environmental factors, such as sleep disruption, dehydration, certain foods etc, can trigger a migraine. One in five people will experience symptoms (aura) such as flashing lights, shimmering lights, zigzag lines and blind spots before the headache starts.
How to manage migraine headache: You can get relief from trying a cold pack, dimming the lights, using heating pads, massaging your scalp and by trying not to chew. Consuming B12 vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help alleviate migraine pain.
2. Tension Headaches
The second most common type of headache, tension headaches causes a constant dull ache or pressure around the head or a headache in the back of the head or neck. They are not severe in nature but can be irritating and may limit you from carrying out your day to day activities. Anyone can get tension headaches, and they are often triggered by stress . Studies and health experts link tension headaches to stress and anxiety, which causes your neck and scalp muscles to contract. It is common for severe tension headaches to be mistaken for migraines.
How to manage tension headaches: Tension headaches can be managed by consuming ginger tea, as it helps in reducing the inflammation and hence the associated pain. Applying two to three drops of peppermint oil to the hairline can also help as it relaxes the muscles around the head and neck.
3. Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are characterised by severe burning and piercing pain and occur around or behind one eye or on one side of the face . In some cases, cluster headaches can cause swelling, redness, flushing and sweating can occur on the side that is affected. These affect men more than women and occur in groups or cycles. Cluster headaches recur regularly, even multiple times daily . Cluster headaches occur in a series, where it can last from 15 minutes to three hours. Doctors are not sure what causes cluster headaches.
How to manage cluster headaches: Sleeping for an hour, drinking water and eating foods rich in magnesium can help provide some relief.
4. Hypnic Headaches
A rare type of primary headache, hypnic headaches are reported in people between the ages of 40 and 80. Hypnic headaches only occur at night, lasting between 15 and 60 minutes and tend to occur at the same time each night . Hypnic headaches require specific medical attention and treatments and do not typically respond to the usual headache medications .
5. Occipital Neuralgia
A rare type of primary headache, occipital neuralgia can occur when the occipital nerves that run from the top of the spinal cord at the base of the neck up through the scalp become inflamed or irritated. This type of headache causes sharp, jabbing and electric pain.
B. Secondary Headaches
Secondary headaches are not that common compared to primary headaches but can be much more serious. They are usually symptoms of anything that is going on in your body . Secondary headaches can be caused due to an overdose of ice cream, sinus and spinal problems . Secondary headaches can be a warning sign of underlying health problems such as brain tumours, aneurysm, meningitis or a neck or brain injury. These kinds of headaches are quite severe, and immediate attention is required.
6. Sinus Headaches
An indication of unhealthy lifestyle habits, sinus headaches are caused by issues surrounding your sinus area such as behind the nose's bridge and inside the forehead or cheekbones. When these areas become inflamed due to allergic reaction or infection, the paths to drain mucus from the sinus become blocked - causing severe pain and headache . Sinus headaches are often accompanied by a fever and symptoms like sinus pressure, nasal congestion, and watery eyes. With the central causes of sinus headache being allergies and infections, the pain related to this can elevate due to inadequate hydration. Unhealthy drinking habits and lack of proper water consumption can trigger a sinus infection.
Migraine headaches are commonly misdiagnosed as sinus headaches. These types of headaches are also termed as allergy headaches .
How to manage sinus headaches: Sinus inflammation may be reduced by drinking warm water or tea. You can also chew on small fresh ginger as it has anti-inflammatory and painkilling properties, which can be beneficial for this type of headache.
7. Hormone Headaches
Commonly reported in women (about 60 per cent), hormone headaches are linked to menstruation, birth control pills and pregnancy, which all cause hormonal fluctuations . Menstrual headaches fall under hormone headaches. The sudden drop in oestrogen right before your period can sometimes trigger migraines. These can develop between three days before and two days after your period has started .
How to manage hormone/menstrual headaches: Try relaxation exercises, a hot water bag over the stomach, cold compression, acupuncture etc. can help provide relief from these headaches.
8. Caffeine Headaches
Having too much caffeine and reducing the amount abruptly can cause severe headaches. When you reduce your daily number of coffees, you are more likely to develop caffeine headaches. The sudden and abrupt drop in the level of caffeine can trigger headache and cause discomfort . However, not everyone who cuts back on caffeine will experience a withdrawal headache.
How to manage caffeine headaches: Avoid medications, beverages, and foods with added caffeine. Sleeping and drinking plenty of water can provide some relief.
9. Exertion Headaches
These types of headaches usually develop immediately after doing intense physical activities such as weight lifting or sexual intercourse . Experts suggest that as these activities cause increased blood flow to your skull, it can lead to a throbbing headache on both sides of your head. Exertion headaches usually resolve within a few minutes or several hours.
How to manage exertion headaches: Drinking water and cooling your body down can help ease exertion headaches.
10. Hypertension Headaches
High blood pressure levels can cause headaches on both sides of your head and get worse with any activity. Hypertension headaches also cause changes in vision, numbness or tingling, nosebleeds, chest pain, or shortness of breath, and goes away soon after the blood pressure is under better control . You are more likely to develop this type of headache if you have high blood pressure.
11. Rebound Headaches
These headaches are caused due to the overuse of headache painkillers. Also called medication headaches, studies point out that excessive consumption of medication can cause your brain to shift into an excited state, triggering more headaches . Rebound headaches are likely to occur any time over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen are used more than 15 days out of a month.
How to manage rebound headaches: The only treatment for rebound headaches is to slowly and gradually stop the use of the medication that you have been taking to control the headache pain.
12. Post-traumatic Headaches
These types of headaches usually develop after any type of head injury and can feel like migraine or tension-type headaches. Post-traumatic headaches usually last up to 6 to 12 months after your injury occurs and can become chronic .
How to manage post-traumatic headaches: Antidepressants, blood pressure pills and anti-seizure medication are commonly used preventive drugs for post-traumatic headache.
13. Early-morning Headaches
This can be caused by various reasons and underlying health problems such as night medications, sleep apnoea etc.
How to manage early morning headache: Avoid overuse of medications and try to develop a sleep routine, like, go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Avoid alcohol and caffeine around bedtime.
14. Ice Cream Headaches
Usually termed as brain freezes, ice-cream headaches can develop when you drink an icy cold drink or treat on a hot day. Individuals with migraines are increasingly prone to it and this type of headache is medically termed as sphenopalatine ganglion neuralgia .
How to manage ice cream headache: Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth for 10 seconds, suck your thumb, cover your mouth with your hands and breathe quickly or hold the liquid in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing.
15. Weekend Headaches
Suspected to be caused by oversleeping on weekend mornings, going to bed later at night, or caffeine withdrawal, weekend headaches can also develop when your stress levels are high throughout the week.
16. Chronic Daily Headaches
If you have a headache at least fifteen days per month for more than three months you're considered to have chronic daily headaches. Chronic daily headaches could be caused by overuse of pain medications, head injury, or in rare cases, meningitis or tumours .
17. Dental Headaches
Certain dental-related conditions such as bruxism (a.k.a., teeth-grinding) and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) can trigger dental headaches.
18. Hangover Headaches
People who drink too much alcohol may wake with a severe headache due to the effects of alcohol and dehydration . Alcohol expands the blood vessel, and when your brain's blood vessels dilate, you may get a headache. Also, alcohol dehydrates your body, and certain compounds like tyramine present in some alcoholic drinks could also trigger headaches.
19. External Compression Headaches
These headaches develop when something worn on your head puts continuous pressure on your forehead or scalp. External compression headaches usually occur in people who wear certain headwear, such as helmets or goggles, for their work or sports activities. People who wear tight hats and headbands also might get this type of headache .
How to manage external compression headache: Once you relieve the source of pressure by taking off the hat, headband, helmet, or goggles, the pain should go away. Also, avoid wearing tight hats or headgear unless absolutely necessary.
20. Spinal Headaches
This type of headache is caused by low pressure or volume of cerebrospinal fluid, a common complication in those who undergo a spinal tap or spinal anaesthesia .
21. Thunderclap Headaches
Thunderclap headaches develop suddenly, actually like a clap of thunder and peaks within 60 seconds . Thunderclap headaches are uncommon and are a group of disorders that involves sudden, severe headaches with multiple causes. Emergency medical attention is necessary.
22. Stabbing / Ice-pick Headaches
You may feel quick jabs or jolts of severe pain around one of the eyes or at the temple which last only a few seconds. These headaches may recur and you are more likely to get ice pick headaches if you are prone to migraines . People usually first notice them between the ages of 45 and 50. It is not clear what causes ice pick headaches.
23. Altitude Headaches
It is that pain you get when you are trekking or hiking and the altitude shifts. Altitude headaches are a symptom of altitude sickness and tarts when you're 8,500 feet above sea level.
C. Cranial Neuralgias, Facial Pain, And Other Headaches
Cranial neuralgia is the inflammation of one of the 12 cranial nerves coming from the brain that control the muscles and carry sensory signals such as pain to and from the head and neck .
24. Trigeminal Neuralgia
The most common type of headache under this is trigeminal neuralgia, a type of headache which affects cranial nerve V, the sensory nerve that supplies the face and can cause intense facial pain when irritated or inflamed .
25. Hemicrania Continua
A rare type of headache, hemicrania continua causes pain on one side of your face or head. Women seem to get it more often than men and the cause of this headache is unknown . With the right treatment, though, most people can get nearly complete relief from the pain.
When Should I See The Doctor?
In most cases, the headaches will go away within 48 hours. If you have a headache that lasts more than two days, you should see a doctor. And if you are facing the following signs and symptoms along with the headache, you may require immediate medical attention.
- Slurred speech 
- A stiff neck
- Fever of 38°C or higher
- Paralysis in any part of your body 
Note: If you are getting headaches more than 15 days out of the month over a period of three months, you might have a chronic headache condition, which requires medical assistance.
On A Final Note…
It may seem like anything and everything can give you a headache, but while some of these headaches need proper medical attention, the other types of headaches can be managed by making some positive changes in your lifestyle such as adopting a better eating habit, getting the right amount of sleep, exercising regularly and most importantly - taking care of your mental health.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What are the 4 types of headaches?
A: The most common types of primary headaches are tension headaches, migraines, cluster headaches and chronic daily headaches.
Q. What are the 3 types of headaches?
A: The primary 3 types of headaches include migraines, tension-type headaches, and cluster headaches.
Q. What are the most common headaches?
A: The most common headaches are cluster headache, migraine, migraine with aura, tension headache and cluster headache.
Q. What could headaches be a sign of?
A: Normal headaches are usually caused by dehydration, muscle tension, nerve pain, fever, caffeine withdrawal, drinking alcohol, or eating certain foods. They may also happen as a result of toothache, hormonal changes, or pregnancy or as a side effect of medication.
Q. What cures a headache fast?
A: You can try a cold or a hot (warm) compress, dimming the lights in the room, practising relaxation techniques, chewing on some ginger to get some relief from the headaches.
Q. What is best for a headache?
A: For most headaches, it is usually best to try over-the-counter medications. Do ask a doctor's or a pharmacist's opinion.
Q. Why do I have headaches everyday?
A: In most cases, headaches are triggered by lifestyle or environmental factors such as stress, changes in weather, caffeine use, or lack of sleep. Overuse of pain medication can also cause a constant headache. For further understanding, discuss it with your doctor.
Q. What does a high blood pressure headache feel like?
A: Headaches due to high blood pressure typically occur on both sides of the head. The headache pain tends to pulsate and often gets worse with physical activity.
Q. What is a hypertension headache?
A: High blood pressure headaches tend to come during a hypertensive crisis, that is, a severe increase in blood pressure that can lead to a stroke. This is defined as blood pressure over 180/120 mm Hg.
Q. What do hormonal headaches feel like?
A: A menstrual migraine is much like a regular migraine. You may notice an aura before the headache, but not everyone gets this. Hormone headaches cause throbbing pain on one side of your head.
Q. What does a dehydration headache feel like?
A: A dehydration headache can feel like a dull headache or an intense migraine. Pain from a dehydration headache can occur at the front, back, side, or all over the head.
Q. When should I worry about a headache?
A: You should worry and seek immediate medical attention if you have a sudden, very severe headache, and it's the first time it's happened. are experiencing any of the signs of stroke including a dropped face on one side; droopy mouth or eye; cannot lift one or both arms; or have slurred speech.
Q. What is gastric headache?
A: This headache is not a defined term but one that is explained in the Iranian traditional medicine. It is defined as the headache not originating from the disorders of head and neck; rather the pain in the head is caused by gastric dysfunction and its diseases.
Q. Are daily headaches normal?
A: Most people have headaches from time to time. But if you have a headache on a daily basis, you might have chronic daily headaches.
Q. What is the strongest headache medicine?
A: Ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) And Naproxen (Aleve).
Note: Do not consume medications without proper guidance from a medical expert.