Medically, headache is not a sign; it is a symptom.
What are the types of primary headaches?
Primary headaches are the ones that happen in the absence of other medical conditions. The headache itself is the main problem, and it often comes in the form of attacks or episodes.
There are three most common types of primary headaches. They are
- This is also called muscle contraction or stress headaches.
- This is the most common headache that makes up 90% of all headaches.
- It can affect up to 78% of Americans at some point in their life.
- You feel tight pressure all over your head, sometimes in your neck and shoulder, and soreness in your temples.
- These headaches are usually due to stress, anxiety, excessive worry, or tiredness.
- This affects nearly 15% of American adults.
- This typically lasts between 4 and 72 hours.
- It is uncommon to have more than one attack of migraine in a day.
- Migraine pain can vary in location; it can develop on just one side of the head, behind the eye, in the back or front of the head, or felt throughout the head. The headache is often more severe on one side of the head.
- The episodes of migraines are usually triggered by hormonal fluctuations, physical activities, noise, or sudden exposure to bright light.
- Nausea, vomiting, visual, and auditory disturbances may accompany a migraine headache.
- Things like lying down and switching off the lights or going in a darker room usually relieve a migraine headache.
- You are more likely to get a migraine if you have close relatives suffering from it.
- The least common type of headaches, affecting less than 1 in 1,000 people.
- These are sudden, very painful headaches on one side of your head.
- A cluster headache lasts about 30 to 90 minutes. You can have eight such clusters/attacks in a single day.
- Cluster headaches involve only one side of the head, which is typically the temple or around the eye.
- Usually, signs and symptoms, such as eye redness, tearing, or nasal congestion, develop on the side of the face where the headache is located.
- Triggering factors include lack of sleep or irregular sleep, alcohol (especially red wine), and smoking.
- Head injury and family history make you more likely to get cluster headaches.
What are the causes of secondary headaches? 17 most common causes
Headaches, other than primary headaches, are known as secondary headaches, and they present as signs to other illnesses.
Digestive system disorders, such as dyspepsia, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), etc. are the most common causes of headaches. This type of headache, also known as gastrointestinal headache, may be considered either as a primary headache (migraine) or secondary headache due to disturbances in the digestive system.
Other most common causes of secondary headaches include:
- Refractive errors (such as nearsightedness and farsightedness)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Viral infections (such as influenza and coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19)
- Any kind of fever
- Acute sinusitis (sinus infection)
- Dehydration due to vomiting, diarrhea
- Dental problems
- Ear infection (particularly middle ear infections)
- Glaucoma (an eye disorder caused by high pressure in the eyes)
- Motion sickness (travel sickness)
- High altitude sickness (mountain sickness)
- Overuse of pain medication (rebound headache)
- A side effect of certain medications
- Head trauma
- Foods items containing monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Less common but serious causes of headache include:
- Epilepsy (a brain disorder characterized by frequent, unpredictable seizures)
- Stroke (blocked blood vessel or bleeding in a certain area of the brain resulting in weakness on one side of the body)
- Intracranial hematoma (collection of blood in the skull, most often as a result of head injury)
- Brain tumor
- Trigeminal neuralgia (a disorder involving irritation of certain nerves connecting the face and brain)
- Encephalitis (brain inflammation)
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- A brain aneurysm (a bulge in an artery in your brain)
- Arnold-Chiari malformation (a structural problem at the base of your skull occurring by birth)
- Brain arteriovenous malformation (an abnormal formation of brain blood vessels)
You should always visit a doctor if you are experiencing any severe and sudden headache for the first time in your life or when you experience a headache with unusual symptoms, such as weakness in your limbs. Alternatively, you can call on 911, the emergency helpline number.
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Gastrointestinal Headache; a Narrative Review. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5007907/
Tension Headache vs. Migraine: How to Tell the Difference. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraine-vs-tension-headache
Top What Could Headache Be a Sign of? Related Articles
Cluster headaches are a type of headache that recurs over a period. Episodes can last one to three times a day during this time, which may last from 2 weeks to 3 months. The three main types of treatments for cluster headaches are, 1) Abortive medications that work to stop the process in the brain that causes migraines and stops the symptoms too. 2) Preventive prescription medications, or 3) surgery which involves blocking the trigeminal nerve.
Headaches can be divided into two categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches. Migraine headaches, tension headaches, and cluster headaches are considered primary headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by disease. Headache symptoms vary with the headache type. Over-the-counter pain relievers provide short-term relief for most headaches.
Migraine TriggersDo you have frequent headaches? Learn the most common headache triggers for tension headaches, sinus headaches, cluster headaches and migraine. They include red wine, skipping meals, and smoke. Find medical treatments that work, like diet, exercise, massage, and physical therapy.
Headache Home RemediesHeadaches are a common complaint for many people. There are many types of headaches such as migraine, tension, cluster, and the general run of the mill headache. These 17 natural home remedies -- for example, exercise, meditation, hydration, yoga, caffeine, essential oils such as lavender and butterbur, herbs, and supplements like magnesium -- can soothe and relieve some headaches.
Headaches in ChildrenKids get headaches and migraines too. Many adults with headaches started having them as kids, in fact, 20% of adult headache sufferers say their headaches started before age 10, and 50% report their headaches started before age 20.
Headaches QuizIf you're plagued with headaches, our Headaches Quiz may help you identify causes, triggers, symptoms, and treatments for headache pain caused by different types of headaches such as migraines, sinus, cluster, tension, or stress.
Migraine HeadacheMigraine headache is a type of headache associated with a sensitivity to light, smells, or sounds, eye pain, severe pounding on one side of the head, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. The exact cause of migraine headaches is not known. Triggers for migraine headaches include certain foods, stress, hormonal changes, strong stimuli (loud noises), and oversleeping. Treatment guidelines for migraines include medicine, pain management, diet changes, avoiding foods that trigger migraines, staying hydrated, getting adequate sleep, and exercising regularly. Prevention of migraine triggers include getting regular exercise, drinking water daily, reducing stress, and avoiding trigger foods.
Migraine HeadachesIs it a headache or a migraine? Learn what a migraine is, causes, symptoms, treatments, and at-home remedies.
Migraine HacksA migraine can be more than just a whopping headache. Try these self-care tips for relief before and after it hits.
Migraines SlideshowWhat does a migraine headache feel like compared to a tension headache? Learn to spot migraine symptoms early, how to identify your triggers, and get more information on migraine headache medications and treatments. Learn to tell migraine from other types of headaches.
Migraine vs. Headache: Differences and SimilaritiesHeadaches are the most common reason why a person goes to the doctor or other healthcare professional for treatment. There are different types of headaches, for example, migraine, tension, and cluster headaches. The most common type of headache is tension headache. Migraine is much less common. There are few similarities between migraine and other headaches, for example, the severity of the pain can be the same, mild, moderate, or severe; and they can occur on one side or both sides of the head. However, there are many differences between migraine and other types of headaches. Migraine headaches also have different names, for example, migraine with aura and menstrual migraine.
Symptoms of migraine that usually aren't experienced by a person with another type of headache include nausea, vomiting, worsens with mild exercise, debilitating pain, eye pain, throbbing head pain.
Migraine trigger include light, mild exercise, strong smells, certain foods like red wine, aged cheese, smoked meats, artificial sweeteners, chocolate, alcohol, and dairy products, menstrual period, stress, oversleeping, and changes in barometric pressure.
Untreated migraine attacks usually last from 4 to 72 hours, but may last for weeks. Most headaches resolve within 24-48 hours. Doctors don't know exactly what causes migraine headaches; however, other headaches like tension headaches have more specific triggers and causes. Additional tests usually are required to diagnose migraine from other types of headaches, diseases, or other medical problems. Most headaches can be treated and cured with home remedies like essential oils, massage, and over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn) or ibuprofen (Advil, Midol, Motrin). Most headaches resolve with OTC and home remedy treatment, while your doctor may need to prescribe medication to treat your migraines. If you have the "worst headache of your life," seek medical care immediately.
Non-Drug Migraine HelpLearn about 14 non-drug treatments for migraines. Acupuncture, biofeedback and massage therapy are among this list of non-drug migraine treatments that may help ease pain.
Occipital Neuralgia (Headache)Occipital neuralgia is a type of headache that involves inflammation or irritation of occipital nerves. Signs and symptoms include a stabbing and throbbing head pain, and an aching pain in the upper back of the head and neck. Potential causes include infection, irritation, or trauma of the occipital nerves. This type of headache is diagnosed by physical examination findings and imaging tests. Treatment involves a multidisciplinary approach that includes massage, rest, physical therapy, heat, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Invasive procedures and even surgery may be considered if first-line treatments fail to bring relief from the chronic pain of this type of headache.
Sinus Headache Pain, Symptoms, Treatments, Remedies, and CuresSinus headache is caused by a sinus infection or inflammation of the sinus cavities. Symptoms of a sinus headache include pain, runny or stuffy nose, and chronic cough. There are many causes of sinus headaches including sinusitis or sinus infection, allergies, smoke, infections, or colds. Treatment for sinus headache depends on the cause. Some home remedies may relieve sinus headache pain symptoms.
Spinal HeadachesA spinal tap or an epidural block can cause a spinal headache. In these procedures, a needle is placed within the fluid-filled space surrounding the spinal cord. This creates a passage for the spinal fluid to leak out, changing the fluid pressure around the brain and spinal cord. A spinal headache may occur up to five days after the procedure is performed. Such a headache may be prevented with bed rest after a procedure.
Tension Headache (Symptoms, Relief, Causes, Treatment)
A tension headache s one of the most common types of headaches, and the exact cause is not known. Factors that may contribute to tension or stress headaches are lack of sleep, increased stress (referred to as a stress headache), skipping meals, dehydration, medical diseases or conditions, anxiety, or changes at home, work, or school. Treatment of tension headaches include prescription and OTC medications, stress management, and treating any underlying illness or condition.