Headache

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Author: Danette C. Taylor, DO, MS, FACN
    Danette C. Taylor, DO, MS, FACN

    Dr. Taylor has a passion for treating patients as individuals. In practice since 1994, she has a wide range of experience in treating patients with many types of movement disorders and dementias. In addition to patient care, she is actively involved in the training of residents and medical students, and has been both primary and secondary investigator in numerous research studies through the years. She is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine (Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology). She graduated with a BS degree from Alma College, and an MS (biomechanics) from Michigan State University. She received her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Her internship and residency were completed at Botsford General Hospital. Additionally, she completed a fellowship in movement disorders with Dr. Peter LeWitt. She has been named a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychiatrists. She is board-certified in neurology by the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. She has authored several articles and lectured extensively; she continues to write questions for two national medical boards. Dr. Taylor is a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council (MSAC) of the Alzheimer's Association of Michigan, and is a reviewer for the journal Clinical Neuropharmacology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

View the Headache and Migraine Triggers Slideshow

Quick GuideMigraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

Migraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

17 types of headaches

The different types of headaches depend upon the class they belong to. Some common types include:

  1. Primary tension headaches that are episodic
  2. Primary tension headaches that are chromic
  3. Primary muscle contraction headaches
  4. Primary migraine headaches with aura
  5. Primary migraine headaches without aura
  6. Primary cluster headache
  7. Primary paroxysmal hemicrania (a type of cluster headache)
  8. Primary cough headache
  9. Primary stabbing headache
  10. Primary headache associated with sexual intercourse
  11. Primary thunderclap headache
  12. Hypnic headache (headaches that awaken a person from sleep)
  13. Hemicrania continua (headaches that are persistently on one side only. right or left [unilateral])
  14. New daily-persistent headache (NDPH) (a type of chronic headache)
  15. Headache from exertion
  16. Trigeminal neuralgia and other cranial nerve inflammation
  17. Secondary headaches due to:
    • Trauma
    • Disorders
    • Infection
    • Structural problems with the bones of the face, teeth, eyes, ears, nose, sinuses or other structures
    • Substance abuse or withdrawal

What causes headaches?

Migraine headache is caused by inflammation or irritation of structures that surround the brain or affect its function. While the brain itself has no pain nerve fibers, everything else above the shoulders, from the neck, skull and face, can cause a person to have of head pain. Systemic illnesses, including infection or dehydration, can have associated headache. These are known as toxic headache. Changes in circulation and blood flow or trauma can also cause headache.

Changes in brain chemistry may also be associated with headache: medication reactions, drug abuse and drug withdrawal can all cause pain.

Every person is different so the history of the headache is important. Recognizing patterns or precipitating (foods eaten, stress, etc.) factors, in combination with the physical examination and associated symptoms, can help identify the cause for each individual's specific headache.

What causes tension headaches?

While tension headaches are the most frequently occurring type of headache, their cause is not known. The most likely cause is contraction of the muscles that cover the skull. When the muscles covering the skull are stressed, they may become inflamed, go into spasm, and cause pain. Common sites include the base of the skull where the trapezius muscles of the neck insert, the temples where muscles that move the jaw are located, and the forehead.

There is little research to confirm the exact cause of tension headaches. It is believed that tension headaches occur because of physical stress placed on the body. For example, these stressors can cause the muscles surrounding the skull to clench the teeth and go into spasm. Physical stressors include difficult and prolonged manual labor, or sitting at a desk or computer for long periods of time concentrating. Emotional stress also might cause tension headaches by causing the muscles surrounding the skull to contract.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/25/2016

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