Types of Headaches

Headache is a pain in any region of the head. Headaches may occur on one or both sides of the head, be isolated to a specific location, radiate across the head from one point, or have a viselike quality.

A headache may appear as a sharp pain, a throbbing sensation, or a dull ache.

Headaches can develop gradually or suddenly and may last from less than an hour to several days.

Your headache symptoms can help your doctor determine its cause and the appropriate treatment. Most headaches aren't the result of a serious illness, but some may result from a life-threatening condition requiring emergency care.

Headaches are generally classified by cause:

Common headaches:

A common headache is caused by overactivity or problems with pain-sensitive structures in your head.

A primary headache isn't a symptom of an underlying disease.

Chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull, or the muscles of your head and neck (or some combination of these factors) can play a role in primary headaches. Some people may also carry genes that make them more likely to develop such headaches.

The most common primary headaches are:

Cluster headache

migraine with or without aura

tension headache

Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia (TAC), such as cluster headache and

paroxysmal hemicrania

 

A few headache patterns are generally considered types of a common headaches but are less common. These headaches have distinct features, such as an unusual duration or pain associated with a particular activity. Some examples are exercise-induced headaches, cough headaches, or headaches with sexual activity.

Some headaches can be triggered by lifestyle factors, including alcohol, particularly red wine, certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates, changes in sleep or lack of sleep, poor posture, skipped meals, and stress.

 

See a doctor if you experience headaches that:

Occur more often than usual

Are more severe than usual

Worsen or don't improve with appropriate use of over-the-counter drugs

Keep you from working, sleeping, or participating in usual activities

Cause you distress, and you would like to find treatment options that enable you to control them better

Treatment medicines:

Common headache medicines are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like:

Ibuprofen or Naprosyn or OTC pain medicines like acetaminophen.

For migraines, a Triptan medicine (like sumatriptan) or a newer migraine class of medication called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) inhibitors like Ubrelvy, or Nurtec ODT are suitable.

Seek emergency care:

A headache can be a symptom of a severe condition, such as a stroke, meningitis, or encephalitis.

Go to a hospital emergency room or call 911 or your local emergency number if you're experiencing the worst headache of your life, a sudden, severe headache, or a headache accompanied by:

Confusion or trouble understanding speech

Fainting

High fever, greater than 102 F to 104 F (39 C to 40 C)

Numbness, weakness, or paralysis on one side of your body

Stiff neck

Trouble seeing

Trouble speaking

Trouble walking

Nausea or vomiting (if not related to the flu or a hangover)

Author
Michael Nunez, M.D. Dr. Michael Nunez is a primary care physician who treats patients living in the Scottsdale, Arizona area. Dr. Nunez attended the University of Arizona where he earned both his Bachelor's degree as well as his doctorate. He received his Board Certification through the American Board of Family Medicine. The doctor is an Arizona native who takes pride in working with the people of his community. The doctor began practicing medicine in 1998. In 2001, he opened Grayhawk Medical Group, PLLC, to better serve the area residents. Dr. Nunez continues to expand his education so he can better serve his patients in all aspects of treatment.

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