Different types of headaches


In the terms of a mortal human being, pain in any part of the head and neck is termed as headache. Headache is normally not a disease but simply symptoms of various conditions. As brain has no pain receptors it lacks pain sensation, however, headache occurs around the brain due to presence of pain sensitive structures. The pain sensitive structures around brain can be categorized into two types: within the cranium and outside the cranium. Most headaches can be subsided by proper use of analgesics; however, sometimes special treatment is required for different types of headaches.


Depending on the pain sensitive structures different types of headaches can result in different level of complication. According to International Headache Society, headache can be categorized into following 3 groups:

  1. Primary headaches,
  2. Secondary headaches
  3. Cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches

Primary headaches:

Migraine, tension headache, cluster headache and some other less common types of headaches can be categorized in this type.

Tension headache is the most prevalent type of primary headache affecting almost 90% of adults. During tension headache, the scalp and neck muscle contract and can occur due to depression, stress, anxiety or head injury. Over use of painkillers can also induce tension headache, and generally 3 times a week can cause rebound headache. Patients with migraine can also experience tension headache. Treatments which accompany over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin are also popular for tension headache.

Migraine is the second most prevalent type of primary headache all over the world. Only in the US, 12% of the whole population suffers from this type. Migraine attacks can last for 4 to 74 hours and remain symptom free in-between attacks. Migraine causes pain in only one side of the head (unilateral) with pulsating action and is normally induced by routine work. The other symptoms associated with migraine are nausea, vomiting, photophobia and phono-phobia (due to noise). Treatments are normally conducted with OTC drugs like acetaminophen, along with some anti-emetics to suppress vomiting.

Cluster headache is a rare excruciating condition affecting only 0.1% of population, and men are more susceptible to cluster headache than women. Almost 85% men are sufferers of cluster headache, and the nature can be episodic or chronic in nature. The episodic cluster headache occurs unilaterally with intense pain around eyes once or twice a day, especially at night. The pain itself lasts from 15-185 minutes. On the other hand, chronic headache is marked by continuous milder background attack, and can, astonishingly persist for 30 or more years. Calcium channel blockers, used for reducing blood pressure, are used for reducing the frequency of cluster headache. The Lithium carbonate and some anticonvulsants are effective medications for cluster headache.

Secondary headaches:

These types of headaches occur due to some underlying disease condition in the head and neck. The causes can be due to a myriad of reasons like tumor, bleeding, encephalitis or meningitis.

Neuralgias and facial pain:

Nerve pains are actually termed as neuralgias which can occur because of inflammation of nerves in the head and upper neck regions, for example trigeminal neuralgia, and can be a major contributing factor behind headaches. Facial stimulating pain including sinusitis or post herpetic neuralgia along with some other headaches is categorized in neuralgias. For the treatment of neuralgias, anticonvulsants and antidepressants are highly recommended.

Though headache is merely a symptom of some complications in head and neck, the importance of its severity should not be ignored. By studying different types of headaches, patients can become aware of proper usage of medications and other conventional alleviation techniques.