Types of Headaches: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

types of headaches

There are different types of headaches and can be very complicated than most people realize.

Different types of headaches can have their own set of symptoms and causes and need different treatments.

However, once you know the cause, your doctor can define treatment options for you that will most likely help and prevent it from recurring.

Headaches are a common complaint and according to WHO, World Health Organization, most people experience headaches from time to time.

While headaches can be painful and cause discomfort, you can treat the majority of them with a painkiller.

However, if the headache keeps on coming back then it could be a sign of something that needs medical attention.

In this article, we will discuss the common types of headaches, their causes, treatment, and prevention.

Also, identify the time when you need to seek medical attention.

Types of Headaches

According to the International Classifications of Headache Disorders, ICHD, there are more than 150 types of headaches.

You can have them because of blocked blood vessels as well.

Although headaches can be due to different causes, can have varying intensity, and can even occur in any part of your head, however, only a small number of them need treatment.

You will have to visit your doctor if you experience the warning signs like stiff neck, vomiting, nausea, confusion, rash, rebound headaches, fever of 100.4 F or 3C, or paralysis.

types of headaches Moreover, they divide them into 2 main categories Primary and Secondary Headaches.

Primary Headaches: This type of headache is not due to another condition, however, it is a condition itself.

Examples are migraines and tension headaches.

Secondary Headaches: This type of headache is a symptom of another condition that could result from head injury or caffeine withdrawal.

Let’s discuss these types of headaches as follows:


Migraine is a type of primary headache. And you will feel intense pain, throbbing pain on just one side of your head.

Other symptoms include heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and even smell. Moreover, you will also experience nausea and vomiting.

Almost 1/3 of the people experience an aura before the onset of this type of headache.

These include vision and sensory disturbances that can last for 5 to 60 minutes and includes distortion in vision, numbness, pins, and needles, muscle weakness, and facing speech difficulties.

In some cases, the aura could be the symptom of stroke or meningitis.

migrainesIf you are experiencing them for the first time you should seek medical attention.

Moreover, there are recurrent meaning that they can come again and may last for 3 days or more.

For many people, it is often a life-long situation.

Interestingly, migraines are more likely to develop in women than in men, although they can occur in both children and adults.

It is also common in people with depression and epilepsy.

Triggers could be dehydration, sleep disturbances, hormonal changes, skipping meals, certain food or medications as well as bright light and loud noise.

Often OTC< over-the-counter medications like aspirin or ibuprofen can help and reduce the pain and duration.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications to treat vomiting and nausea, and you can ease these attacks by resting, placing an ice pack on your forehead, or drinking water.

However, for chronic migraines, you should visit your doctor. The symptoms are headaches on more than 15 days every month, over a period of 3 months, or at least 8 symptoms.

Treatment includes using topiramate, propranolol, and amitriptyline. One can also consider dietary changes, medications, acupuncture, and neuromodulation therapy.

Learn more about migraines.

Tension Headaches

One of the most common types of headaches is tension headaches. You can experience the, occasionally, and is a dull, constant pain on both sides of your head.

Other symptoms are tenderness on your face, neck, and shoulders, a feeling of pressure behind your eyes, and sensitivity to light and sound.

This type of headache can last for 30 minutes to several hours and the intensity varies from one person to another.

tension headachesThe causes of tension headaches are not clear, however, stress, anxiety, and depression are common triggers.

Other triggers include dehydration, loud noise, poor sleep, poor physical movement or exercise, eye strain, etc.

In most cases, OTC painkillers can help relieve the pain however, if you are facing pain for more than 15 days or so, you should see your doctor.

Moreover, lifestyle changes like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, improving posture, eye tests and examination, stress management, and acupuncture can help.

Cluster Headaches

According to WHO, cluster headaches are more likely to develop in men than in women by 3 times.

Many people describe it as intense burning or pricing pain behind or around either of the eyes.

Other symptoms are watering eyes, swollen eyelids, sensitivity to light and sounds, restlessness, or agitation.

Cluster headaches are often sudden and can last for 15 to 3 hours.

 cluster headachesMoreover, you can experience up to 8 attacks in a day. The attacks can occur daily and can even persist for weeks or even months.

They usually occur during the same time of the day and many people often mistake it as hay fever.

The causes of this type of headache are unclear, however, most likely occurs in smokers.

The treatments aim to reduce the severity and frequency of attacks and options are topiramate, sumatriptan, steroids, oxygen therapy, or lithium.

In some cases, your doctor may suggest surgery if the case is difficult to treat.

Exertional Headaches

When you perform extensive physical exercise it can cause exertional headaches and may also be due to running, jumping, frequent coughing or sneezing, or weight lifting.

These occur for short periods of time. however, can last for at least 2 days.

exertion headachesYou may feel a throbbing pain throughout the head and is more common in people who have a family history of migraines.

However, if you experience it for the first time, you should visit your doctor as it may be a sign of other medical conditions.

You can treat it with OTC medications or by taking non-steroidal non-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs,s or beta-blockers.

Hypnic Headaches

This type of primary headache is the rarest and usually presents itself in a person during their 50s.

Also termed Alarm Clock, headaches, may make you wake at night.

Hypnic headaches comprise mild to moderate throbbing pain and can be felt on both sides of the head.

It can last for 3 hours and other symptoms include nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.

Individuals may experience pain every week and their triggers are unknown.

types of headaches, hypnic headachesIf an individual experience them for the first time, then they should visit the doctor as they need to rule out migraines and cluster headaches.

The treatment options include caffeine intake, in the form of tablets or cups of coffee before bedtime.

Other drug options are melatonin, lithium, or indomethacin.

Sinus Headaches

This is the form of secondary types of headaches and is due to sinusitis, or swelling of the sinuses which results due to infections or an allergy.

The symptoms are dull, throbbing pain around your eyes, cheeks, and forehead.

It may even worsen with movement or when you put strain and can even affect your teeth and jaws.

A nasal discharge may also be present in this type. Other symptoms are fever, nausea, and sensitivity to light or sound.

Sinus headaches are very rare, however, if there is no nasal discharge, then it may be a sign of a migraine.

sinus headachesYou can treat it with OTC medication or nasal decongestants. However, if the symptoms do not decrease, then seek medical advice.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if it is due to bacterial infection or antihistamines in case of an allergy.

For diagnosis, your doctor may refer you to an ENT specialist and in a rare case, you may need surgical drainage.

Medications-overuse Headaches

One of the most common types of secondary headaches is medication-overuse headaches MOH.

Its symptoms are similar to those of tension headaches or migraines. You can treat them with the help of painkillers, however, they recur after some time.

MOH can be due to painkillers if you take them for more than 15 days a month. Drugs that trigger MOH are opioids, acetaminophen, triptans, and NSAIDs.

medication overuseIt can also occur despite taking medications, however, it develops in people taking painkillers for headaches.

The treatment option is to stop taking medications for the headaches. However, you should consult your doctor before stopping them.

Your doctor can divide a plan and will prescribe other medications to ease the withdrawal process.

Symptoms may worsen however, will stop after 10 days,

Additional withdrawal symptoms are nausea and vomiting, increase in heart rate, sleep disturbances and restlessness, anxiety, and nervousness.

Avoiding the use of caffeine, taking painkillers for no more than 2 days, and using preventive medications can prevent them from returning.

Learn more about helping someone with anxiety attacks.

Menstrual Headaches

Hormonal changes can also cause headaches and are frequently linked with women due to natural changes in estrogen levels.

These can develop in the days just before or during a period or sometimes during ovulation or when ovulation symptoms are noticed.

The symptoms of menstrual migraines are the same as that of migraine without aura, however, can last longer.

Menstrual HeadachesHormone-related headaches can be due to oral contraceptives, menopause, and pregnancy.

Treatment is the same as that for migraines, however, doctors can advise preventive measures like home therapy, taking NSAIDs around the time of periods, alternative contraceptives, and hormone replacement therapy.

Learn more about the early signs of pregnancy.

Caffeine related Headaches

Excess consumption of headaches can cause this headache. Taking caffeine for more than 400 milligrams or mg or around 4 cups of coffee can lead to it.

People who consume more than 200mg of coffee daily for more than 2 weeks, when withdrawing from it can result in migraine-like headaches.

caffeine overdoseThey can develop in 24 hours after stopping the consumption of coffee and other symptoms are tiredness, difficulty in concentrating, nausea and irritability.

Moreover, symptoms are often relieved within an hour of caffeine intake or may resolve fully within 7 days after complete withdrawal.

The effects of caffeine vary from person to person, however, reducing intake could decrease the risk of getting headaches.

Thus, limiting caffeine consumption is sometimes recommended for people who have chronic migraines.

Other Secondary Headaches

Other types of secondary headaches can be due to head injuries and are accompanied by unconsciousness, seizures, vomiting, memory loss, confusion, and vision or hearing problems.

Hypertension headaches are due to high blood pressure.

Moreover, A hypertension headache will occur on both sides of your head and is typically worse with any activity.

It often has a pulsating quality. You may also experience changes in vision, numbness or tingling, nosebleeds, chest pain, or shortness of breath.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Most of the time you face a headache it is likely that it will go away within 48 hours. If the headache lasts more than two days or it causes more pain then it is clear that you need medical attention.

You may have a chronic headache condition if you are getting headaches for more than 15 days a month. You should see a doctor in such cases to find out the cause of this even if it goes away with the help of pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen.

Headaches can be a symptom of a more serious health condition that may cause you problems in the future.

The TakeAway

Headaches can be due to a number of reasons, and knowing the cause of them can be helpful for treating them. They are of two types Primary and Secondary.

They can vary in intensity, frequency, and severity. Most of them can be treated with the help of OTC medications, however, if it persists for more than 15 days a week, you should seek medical attention.

Add Comment

Leave a Reply