Types Of Headaches And Causes (A Simple but complex illness)

Headaches might be more complicated than most people realize, it can easily kill one if not careful. Once you know the type of headache you have, you and your doctor can find the treatment that’s most likely to help and even try to prevent them. They can be triggered by different reasons.

Here are the common types of headaches:

The common types of headache

There are over 150 types of headaches, but the most common types include:

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches are often described as pounding, throbbing pain.

Along with the pain, people have other symptoms, such as sensitivity to light, noise, or smells; nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite; and upset stomach or belly pain. When a child has a migraine, she may look pale, feel dizzy, and have blurry vision, fever, and an upset stomach.

They can last from 4 hours to 3 days and usually happen one to four times a month. A small number of children’s migraines include digestive symptoms, like vomiting, that happen about once a month.

Tension headache.

They cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over time. They usually have no other symptoms.Tension headaches are the most common type of headache among adults and teens.

Cluster headaches

They’re called cluster headaches because they tend to happen in groups.

These headaches are the most severe. You could have intense burning or piercing pain behind or around one eye. It can be throbbing or constant.

Men are three to four times more likely to get them than women.

The pain can be so bad that most people with cluster headaches can’t sit still and will often pace during an attack. On the side of the pain, the eyelid droops, the eye reddens, pupil gets smaller, or the eye makes tears. The nostril on that side runs or stuffs up.

You might get them one to three times per day during a cluster period, which may last 2 weeks to 3 months. Each headache attack lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours. They can wake you up from sleep. The headaches may disappear completely (your doctor will call this remission) for months or years, only to come back later.

Chronic daily headache

You have this type of headache 15 days or more a month for longer than 3 months. Some are short. Others last more than 4 hours.

Hormone headache

You can get headaches from shifting hormone levels during your periods, pregnancy, and menopause. The hormone changes from birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can also trigger headaches. When they happen 2 days before your period or in the first 3 days after it starts, they’re called menstrual migraines.

Sinus headache

With sinus headaches, you feel a deep and constant pain in your cheekbones, forehead, or on the bridge of your nose.

The pain usually comes along with other sinus symptoms, like a runny nose, fullness in the ears, fever, and a swollen face. A true sinus headache results from a sinus infection so the gunk that comes out of your nose will be yellow or green, unlike the clear discharge in cluster or migraine headache.

They happen when cavities in your head, called sinuses, get inflamed.

Rebound headache

You might also hear these called medication overuse headaches. If you use a prescription or over-the-counter pain reliever more than two or three times a week, or more than 10 days a month, you’re setting yourself up for more pain. When the meds wear off, the pain comes back and you have to take more to stop it. This can cause a dull, constant headache that’s often worse in the morning.

Posttraumatic Headaches

Posttraumatic stress headaches usually starts 2-3 days after a head injury. You’ll feel:

  • A dull ache that gets worse from time to time
  • Lightheadedness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Tiring quickly
  • Irritability
  • Vertigo

Headaches may last for a few months. But if it doesn’t get better within a couple of weeks, call your doctor.

Thunderclap headache

People often call this the worst headache of your life. It comes suddenly out of nowhere and peaks quickly. Causes of thunderclap headaches include:

  • Blood vessel tear, rupture, or blockage
  • Head injury
  • Hemorrhagic stroke from a ruptured blood vessel in your brain
  • Ischemic stroke from a blocked blood vessel in your brain
  • Narrowed blood vessels surrounding the brain
  • Inflamed blood vessels
  • Blood pressure changes in late pregnancy

Take a sudden new headache seriously. It’s often the only warning sign you get of a serious problem.

Image credit: Getty Images

What Causes Headaches?

The pain you feel during a headache comes from a mix of signals between your brain, blood vessels, and nearby nerves. Specific nerves in your blood vessels and head muscles switch on and send pain signals to your brain. But it isn’t clear how these signals get turned on in the first place.

Common causes of headache include:

Stress.

Emotional stress and depression as well as alcohol use, skipping meals, changes in sleep patterns, and taking too much medication. Other causes include neck or back strain due to poor posture.

Illness.

This can include infections, colds, and fevers. Headaches are also common with conditions like sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), a throat infection, or an ear infection. In some cases, headaches can result from a blow to the head or, rarely, a sign of a more serious medical problem.

Genetics.

Headaches, especially migraine headaches, tend to run in families. Most children and teens (90%) who have migraines have other family members who get them. When both parents have a history of migraines, there is a 70% chance their child will also have them. If only one parent has a history of these headaches, the risk drops to 25%-50%

Your environment

Including secondhand tobacco smoke, strong smells from household chemicals or perfumes, allergens, and certain foods. Stress, pollution, noise, lighting, and weather changes are other possible triggers.

Too much physical activity can also trigger a migraine in adults.

Treatment for Headache

Migraine treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and preventing additional attacks. If you know what triggers your migraines, avoiding those triggers and learning how to manage them can help prevent migraines or lessen the pain. Treatment might include:

  • Rest in a quiet, dark room
  • Hot or cold compresses to your head or neck
  • Massage and small amounts of caffeine
  • Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and aspirin
  • Prescription medications including triptans, such as sumatriptan (Imitrex) and zolmitriptan (Zomig)
  • Preventive medications such as metoprolol (Lopressor), propranolol (Innopran, Inderal, others), amitriptyline, divalproex (Depakote), topiramate (Qudexy XR, Trokendi XR ,Topamax) or erenumab-aooe (Aimovig)

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