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Types of Headaches

Types of Headaches: Locations, Symptoms, and Causes

We all hate the throbbing pain that is accompanied by a headache. We take different medications or drink tea and coffee to make the pain stop. If that doesn’t work we go for head massages and other treatments, which we believe would help. 

Learning what kind of headache you are having can significantly help in treating it and most importantly preventing it from happening again. In this article, we’ll talk about the different types of headaches, their symptoms, and causes, and what you can do to treat them. 

What are the Different Types of Headaches?

There are many different types of headaches. The differentiation between them depends on the headache locations, symptoms, and causes. A headache can occur due to multi[le reasons including lack of sleep, stress, fatigue, caffeine withdrawal, and some medications can also cause a headache. Here is a list of different types of headaches, their locations, causes, and symptoms. 

Common Types of Headaches

There are two categorizations of headaches: primary headache and secondary headache. The common primary headaches are hypnic headaches, cluster headaches, tension headaches, and migraine headaches. And under secondary headaches, we have allergy and sinus headaches, exertion headaches, rebound headaches, hormone headaches, caffeine headaches, post-traumatic stress headaches, and hypertension headaches. 

Primary Headaches

A primary headache is caused by pain sensitivity structure. It is when the headache itself is the main problem and not an underlying symptom of another problem. Soreness in the muscles of your head and neck, chemical activity in your brain, and some problem with your nerves and blood vessels can cause primary headaches. According to a few types of research, genetics play an important role in you developing such headaches.

Tension Headaches

This is the most common headache type. Nearly everyone around the world gets a tension headache when the muscles around the head are tightened. Stress and muscle tension are mainly the causes of this type of headache. The severity of the pain is much lower as compared to the other types of headaches. These are normally mild headaches and tend to cause a steady ache that impacts both sides of the head. The pain usually starts from the back of the head which then travels to the entire head. This does not usually cause symptoms associated with headaches, like nausea and sensitivity to light but it can make the muscles around your shoulders, neck, and jaw hurt as well. 

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are amongst the most painful headaches. It occurs in a cluster period and causes extreme throbbing pain around one eye or one side of your head. These cluster periods can last from a few weeks to a few months. These headaches are followed by remission periods in which the headaches stop. The remission period can last for months and sometimes even years. This is a rare type of headache and is not life-threatening. With the help of treatment and medications, the severity of the pain can be reduced. Besides the excruciating pain, restlessness, stuffy nose, redness or swelling around the eyes, and pale skin or flushed cheeks are also the symptoms of cluster headaches. 

Migraine Headaches

Migraines are the most commonly known headaches. People often confuse other types of headaches with migraines. It is a neurological disease that causes excruciating pain in one side of the head. Physical activity, loud sounds, light, and smell can worsen the pain caused by migraines. If the migraine is left untreated it becomes severe. The pain may shift to the other side of the head. It can shift to the back or the front of the head as well. Some people who suffer from migraines say they feel pain in their jaw, sinuses, and neck as well. Migraine headaches are chronic headaches. They can last a few hours or days.

A person develops migraines normally due to genetics, gender (women are more likely to get migraines), stress level, and smoking. Besides the throbbing pain migraines can cause other symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, dizziness, and blurred vision, and cold chills or sweating. 

Hypnic Headaches

Hypnic headaches are extremely rare types of headaches. They are also known as alarm clock headaches, mainly because this type of headache occurs during sleep, which wakes up the person experiencing it. It normally occurs around the same time during the night for several nights in a week. The cause of this type of headache is unknown but it is associated with rapid eye movement sleep, pain management, and melatonin production by some researchers. The pain caused by hypnic headaches spread through both sides of the head. The severity of the pain varies but it is usually severe enough to wake a person up. Hypnic headaches can cause migraine-like symptoms as well like sensitivity to light and sound, nausea, fatigue, etc.

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are the opposite of primary headaches. These are the headaches caused by an underlying disease. These are usually symptoms of another illness or health concern.

Allergy or Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches or allergy headaches happen when your sinus gets inflamed normally because of an allergic reaction or infection. The inflammation leads to a build-up of pressure in your sinuses which causes headaches. There would be persistent pressure in your cheekbones, forehead, and the bridge of your nose. Along with that, there would be other symptoms like runny nose, fever, and swelling of the face. 

Hormone Headaches

In women, one of the most prominent causes of headaches is fluctuating hormonal levels. The hormone levels tend to fluctuate during pregnancy, menopause, or the menstrual cycle. They can also be affected by contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies. Hormone headaches can be accompanied by other symptoms like acne, loss of appetite, fatigue, constipation, joint pain, decreased urination, and cravings. The best thing to do to treat your headache is to drink plenty of water, massage your head, and perform relaxation exercises. 

Caffeine Headaches

There is a line between how much caffeine you should drink. Caffeine can help in treating migraine headaches but if you are consuming too much caffeine and you suddenly stop it can cause severe headaches known as caffeine headaches. Caffeine narrows down the blood vessels surrounding your brain, when you stop drinking caffeine the blood vessels enlarge which leads to an increase of blood flow around the brain. This added flow increases pressure on the nerves surrounding the brain which triggers caffeine withdrawal headaches. Be mindful of how much caffeine you consume in a day and pay attention to when your headaches occur. 

Exertion Headaches

As self-explanatory as it is, this type of headache is caused by the exertion of the body. Any strenuous activity like exercising, dancing, hiking, rowing, swimming, or jumping can cause exertion headaches. The pain normally occurs right after the activity. It can also occur during it. This type of headache affects both sides of the head and is normally extremely excruciating. 

Hypertension Headaches

It is at times difficult to recognize high blood pressure as people are generally not exhibiting any symptoms of it but sometimes a few symptoms can indicate if you have high blood pressure or not, one of those being a severe headache. According to research, hypertension headaches can cause pressure on both sides of the head and it can get worse with physical activity. 

Rebound Headaches

We normally treat our headaches with medications like ibuprofen, aspirin, or other pain-relieving drugs. But if you overconsume these drugs or don’t take them as per the advice of your doctor, these medications can cause rebound headaches also known as medication overuse headaches. It is basically your body’s withdrawal reaction to the headache medication which leads to another headache. A person who gets tension headaches and migraines is more likely to get rebound headaches. It is mostly caused by pain relievers that have caffeine in them. Over usage of such medications can also lead to an addiction which can have severe side effects. 

Post-Traumatic Headaches

Post-traumatic headache or PTH is a symptom of a concussion. If you recently had an accident that led to a head injury, a headache within 7 days after you regained consciousness is known as post-traumatic headaches. This type of headache at times feels like migraines. It can be accompanied by other symptoms like nausea and vomiting. If the pain becomes more severe it can cause other symptoms like insomnia, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and memory problems. 

When Should I Seek Medical Care?

A headache is normally not something you should worry about but it can be a symptom of an underlying disease or illness. If you suffer from unusual pain or symptoms seek medical attention immediately. Our expert physicians can help you treat your headaches and diagnose what may be causing them. 

– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 08/16/2021

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  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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