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Headache Types

Headache Types

If you are a headache sufferer, you know no two headaches are alike. There are cluster headaches, migraine headaches, sinus headaches, tension-type headaches and more. And the pain can range from a mild annoyance to an incapacitating ache. Not sure which type of headache you have? We cover the basics about a few headache types in the list below. For a more comprehensive list, check out the National Headache Foundation's Headache Topic Sheets.

Type Symptoms Precipitating Factors Treatment & Prevention
Allergy and Headaches

Generalized headache. Nasal congestion, watery eyes.

Seasonal allergens, such as pollen, molds. Allergies to food are not usually a factor.

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Symptoms may mimic frequent migraine or cluster headaches, caused by balloon-like weakness or bulge in blood-vessel wall. May rupture (stroke) or allow blood to leak slowly resulting in a sudden, unbearable headache, double vision, rigid neck. Individual rapidly becomes unconscious.

Congenital tendency. Extreme hypertension.

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Arthritis Headaches

Pain at the back of head or neck. Intensifies on movement. Caused by inflammation of the blood vessels of the head or bony changes in the structures of the neck.

Cause of pain is unknown.

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Caffeine-Withdrawal Headaches

Throbbing headache caused by rebound dilation of the blood vessels, occurring multiple days after consumption of large quantities of caffeine.


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Chronic Daily Headaches

Refers to a broad range of headache disorders occurring more than 15 days a month. Two categories are determined by duration of the headache (<4 hours and >4 hours)

Typically evolve from transformed migraine. Although not related to chronic tension-type headache they can evolve from episodic tension-type headache. CDH can be associated with medication overuse.

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Cluster Headaches

Excruciating pain in vicinity of eye. Tearing of eye, nose congestion, flushing of face. Pain frequently develops during sleep and may last for several hours. Attacks occur every day for weeks/month, then disappear for up to a year. 80% of cluster patients are male, most ages 20-50.

Alcoholic beverages, excessive smoking.

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Depression and Headaches

People with painful organic diseased tend to become depressed. It should be noted that too little attend it given to the depressive aspects of chronic pain its treatment.

Causes can originate from a wide variety of complaints that can be categorized as physical emotional and psychic.

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Exertion Headaches

Generalized head pain of short duration (minutes to 1 hour) during or following physical exertion (running, jumping, or sexual intercourse), or passive exertion (sneezing, coughing, moving one's bowels, etc.).

10% caused by organic diseases (aneurysms, tumors, or bloodvessel malformation). 90% are related to migraine or cluster headaches.

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Eyestrain Headaches

Usually frontal, bilateral pain, directly related to eyestrain. Rare cause of headache.

Muscle imbalance. Uncorrected vision, astigmatism.

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Fever Headaches

Generalized head pain that develops with fever. Caused by swelling of the blood vessels of the head.

Caused by infection.

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Giant Cell Arteritis

A boring, burning, or jabbing pain caused by inflammation of the temporal arteries. Pain, often around ear, on chewing. Weight loss, eyesight problems. Rarely affects people under 50.

Cause is unknown. May be due to immune disorder.

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Hangover Headaches

Migraine-like symptoms of throbbing pain and nausea not localized to one side.

Alcohol, which causes dilation and irritation of the blood vessels of the brain and surrounding tissue. 

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Hunger Headaches

Pain strikes just before mealtime. Caused by muscle tension, low blood sugar, and rebound dilation of the blood vessels, oversleeping or missing a meal.

Strenuous dieting or skipping meals.

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Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) Headaches

Generalized or "hairband" type pain, most severe in the morning. Diminishes throughout day.

Severe hypertension: over 200 systolic and 110 diastolic.

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Menstrual Headaches

Migraine-type pain that occurs shortly before, during, or immediately after menstruation or at mid-cycle (at time of ovulation).

Variances in estrogen levels.

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Migraine with Aura

Similar to migraine without aura, except warning symptoms develop. May include visual disturbances, numbness in arm or leg. Warning symptoms subside within one-half hour, followed by severe pain.

Same as migraine without aura.

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Migraine without Aura

Severe, one-sided throbbing pain, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, cold hands, sensitivity to sound and light.

Certain foods, the Pill or menopausal hormones, excessive hunger, changes in altitude, weather, lights, excessive smoking, and emotional stress. Hereditary component.

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New Daily Persistent Headaches

This headache can best be described as the rapid development (less than three days) of unrelenting headache, and typically presents in a person with no past history of a headache.

Typically NDPH does not evolve from migraine or episodic tension-type headache. NDPH begins as a new headache. It may be the result of a viral infection.

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Post-Traumatic Headaches

Localized or generalized pain, can mimic migraine or tension-type headache symptoms. Headaches usually occur on daily basis and are frequently resistant to treatment.

Pain can occur after relatively minor traumas. Cause of pain is often difficult to diagnose.

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Sinus Headaches

Gnawing pain over nasal area, often increasing in severity throughout day. Caused by acute infection, usually with fever, producing blockage of sinus ducts and preventing normal drainage. Sinus headaches are rare. Migraine and cluster headaches are often misdiagnosed as sinus in origin.

Infection, nasal polyps, anatomical deformities, such as a deviated septum, that block the sinus ducts.

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Temporomandibul ar Joint (TMJ) Headaches

A muscle-contraction type of pain, sometimes accompanied by a painful "clicking" sound on opening the jaw. Infrequent cause of headache.

Caused by malocclusion (poor bite), stress, and jaw clenching.

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Tension-Type Headaches

Dull, non-throbbing pain, frequently bilateral, associated with tightness of scalp or neck. Degree of severity remains constant.

Emotional stress. Hidden depression.

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Trigeminal Neuralgia (Tic Douloureux)

Short, jab like pain in trigger areas found in the face around the mouth or jaw. Frequency and longevity of pain varies. Relatively rare disease of the neural impulses; more common in women after age 55.

Cause unknown. Pain from chewing, cold air, touching face. If under age 55, may result from neurological disease, such as MS.

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Tumor Headaches

Pain progressively worsens, projectile vomiting, possible visual disturbances speech or personality changes; problems with equilibrium, gait, or coordination; seizures. Extremely rare condition.

Cause of tumor is usually unknown.

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