Types of Headaches

Types of Headaches

Headaches very from one case to another one. This depends on the pain severity, how often it occurs and where. Research shows that they’re 150 types of headaches. They are divided into two main categories.

  • Primary headache
  • Secondary headache

Primary headache

In cases where the headache itself is the main problem and not caused by any other disease it’s called a primary headache. Primary headaches arise from inflammation of the pain-sensitive parts of the neck and head and around them. This also includes blood vessels, muscles and nerves.  

A primary headache is not considered a serious problem in itself, although it may disrupt the one suffering from it. There are several categories of primary headaches, the most common of which are migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches. Below are the different types of primary headaches;

Tension headache

Tension headache is one of the most common types of primary headache among individuals. It is a constant pain felt on both sides of the head, and it usually lasts for about half an hour. Sometimes when it is for several hours, it may also be accompanied by a number of other symptoms, such as pressure behind the eyes, sensitivity to lights and sounds. Although the headache varies the tension is intense, but it rarely interferes with normal activities.


Tension headache affects people of all ages, but is more common among adults and older people. These types of headaches are more common among women and members of the same family. The tension headache feels like the tightening of the scalp. It is usually caused by anxiety or depression.

There are also other activities that people do that can cause tension headaches such as; manual work, microscope, using a computer for long.

Tension headaches are not related to brain diseases, but there are other factors that may stimulate them such as;

  • Dental problems
  • Eyes strain
  • Excessive smoking.
  • Exhaustion.
  • A sinus infection.
  • Emotional or physical tension.
  • Having a migraine.
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drinking a lot of caffeine


Tension headaches are usually treated with pain relievers, such as;

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Acetaminophen

These are very effective in relieving pain. Often as a result of the excessive use of these drugs.


Migraine headaches are defined as a throbbing pain that may last from four hours to three days. This pain usually appears between one to four times per month. Besides the migraine pain there are a number of other symptoms that may come as well such a nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, light/odour/sound sensitive or loss of appetite.


The main causes of migraines are still not understood. However, environmental and genetic factors play a major role in their occurrence. Migraines can happen due to changes that occur in the brain and how it interacts with the main pain pathway. There are a number of factors that make an individual more prone to migraines, including the following:

  1. Age

Migraines may begin at any age, but their first appearance is usually during adolescence. They often reach their peak in the thirties, and as years go by they become gradually less severe.

2. Family history

The chance of developing a migraine is greater if a family member has this problem.

3. Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause affect migraine headaches in women. In that case headaches may start directly before or shortly after the menstrual cycle, and it also changes during pregnancy.

4. Gender

Women are three times more likely to have a migraine than men.


Although there is no cure for migraines. There are some methods to help ease migraine symptoms. In addition to using medicines, sleeping or lying in a dark room may help relieve the symptoms of a migraine attack.

In the case of migraine headaches the doctor may prescribe drugs to relieve pain including;

  1. Pain relievers

These drugs can be distributed without a prescription, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol.

2. Triptans

These are drugs that help reverse the changes that occur in the brain, which may be the cause of migraine.

Cluster headache

Cluster headache often appears in the form of close attacks that last from 1-3 hours. It is on a daily basis or repeated several times per day. It is less common compared to tension headache and migraine and among the most common symptoms of cluster headache are:

  • Eyelid swelling.
  • Severe pain on one side of the head.
  • Swelling of the front of the head.
  • Runny nose or congestion.
  • Redness and tearing of the affected eye.


The cause of cluster headache is not completely clear, but it can be said that the possibility of it is greater among smokers, and people with cluster headaches should refrain from consuming alcohol altogether, especially during headache attacks.


Although there is no specific treatment for cluster headache, the doctor may recommend some pain relievers including verapamil and oxygen therapy that help relax blood vessels, reduce swelling and inflammation.

Stress headache

A stress headache is related to physical activity. It can be summed by a number of symptoms that go with the incidence of a stress headache;

  • Sudden throbbing pain that lasts from 5 minutes to 48 hours.
  • Sound/light sensitive headache.


A headache caused by exercise is one the types that usually affects people with migraine history.

It is triggered during or after sneezing, coughing, during sexual activities, or intense physical exercise, such as: weight lifting or jogging.


Most stress headaches are benign headaches. This means they can be treated by the normal headache treatments. Some people use indomethacin – which is an anti-inflammatory substance taken before physical activity. The patient should also be careful to practice warm-up exercises before starting intense exercise.

Hypnic headache

This is one of the rare types of headaches that affects people between the ages of 40-80 years. It is sometimes known as the sleep headache and starts at night lasting about 15-60 minutes. The person can get 15 headache attacks making them sleep for a month or more, occurring at the same time every night.

A hypnic headache is a headache that doesn’t focus on one side of the face. It isn’t accompanied by watering eyes, runny nose, or other symptoms.

Hypnic headaches often do not respond to the normal headache medications.


  • Indomethacin
  • Melatonin
  • Flunarizine
  • Lithium carbonate
  • Topiramate

Secondary headache

Secondary headache is a rare type of headache, which is more dangerous when compared to a primary headache. It occurs as a result of exposure to another health problem that stimulates the pain-sensitive parts of the head and neck region.

A secondary headache can occur as a sign of a serious health problem, such as a brain tumour, hydrocephalus, severe high blood pressure, or exposure of the brain to infection. Below are some types of secondary headaches;

Sinus headache

Sinus headaches occur as a result of swelling of the sinus passages, which results in pain in the eyes, nose, and behind the cheeks. This pain worsens when waking up in the early morning hours, or when bending forward.

It is worth noting that a sinus headache is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as: fever, congestion, facial pain, and nasal drainage. It is common to confuse and not distinguish between a sinus headache and a headache. Migraines, many individuals think that they have a sinus headache, but they actually suffer from a migraine.


Sinusitis occurs as a result of nose irritation, allergies or an infection. It might be because of a fungal, viral or bacterial infection. The virus is the most common among them. The pain that accompanies a sinus headache happens when there’s an increase in fluid pressure.


A sinus headache can be treated with nasal decongestants and pain relievers. If you don’t start getting better within a week, you should see a doctor who will give you antihistamines or antibiotics in cases of allergies, or antibiotics if a bacterial infection is responsible for the headache, or a nasal corticosteroid spray.

Ice cream Headache

This happens when you inhale, drink or eat something cold. It can also happen when you drink beverages containing crushed ice, iced Popsicle.

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