Headache (cont.)

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How are headaches classified?

In 2005, the International Headache Society released its latest classification system for headache. Because so many people suffer from headaches and because treatment sometimes is difficult, it was hoped that the new classification system would help health care professionals make a specific diagnosis as to the type of headache and allow better and more effective options for treatment.

There are three major categories of headache based upon the source of the pain:

  1. primary headaches;
  2. secondary headaches; and
  3. cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches.

What are primary headaches?

Primary headaches include migraine, tension, and cluster headaches, as well as a variety of other less common types of headache.

  • Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache. Tension headaches occur more commonly among women than men. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 20 people in the developed world suffer with a daily tension headache.
  • Migraine headaches are the second most common type of primary headache. An estimated 28 million people in the United States (about 12% of the population) will experience a migraine headache. Migraine headaches affect children as well as adults. Before puberty, boys and girls are affected equally by migraine headaches, but after puberty, more women than men are affected. It is estimated that 6% of men and up to 18% of women will experience a migraine headache in their lifetime.
  • Cluster headaches are a rare type of primary headache affecting 0.1% of the population (1 in a 1,000 people). It more commonly affects men in their late 20s though women and children can also suffer this type of headache.

Primary headaches can affect the quality of life. Some people have occasional headaches that resolve quickly while others are debilitated. While these headaches are not life-threatening, they may be associated with symptoms that can mimic strokes.

Many patients equate severe headache with migraine, but the amount of pain does not determine the diagnosis of migraine. A full discussion of migraine headaches can be found in this article.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/16/2013

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