Overview of Headaches

Primary and Secondary Types Plus Warning Signs

Most people have headaches now and then, which can range from migraine, tension, and cluster headaches to the most serious types. What kinds of headaches are there?

Headache is one of the most common complaints seen in the clinic. It is also a condition that most people try to manage on their own without a visit to the doctor. While most headaches are benign, one must not forget that there are different causes for headaches, including the occasional serious type that is life-threatening without prompt evaluation. The following is an overview of the causes of headaches.

Primary Headaches

A migraine headache tends to be bothersome for those who experience it. It starts as a mild steady headache and peaks as an intense throbbing headache usually felt on one side of the head. It can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting as well as sensitivity to light and noise. In fact, being in a dark and quiet room may provide relief. About one-fifth of people with migraine headaches have auras, which are neurological phenomena preceding the headache. They may involve, for example, seeing flashing lights and experiencing facial numbness.

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Tension headache is generally associated with stress. Unlike migraine, the pain of a tension headache tends to be a steady non-throbbing pain involving both sides of the head without accompanying symptoms that characterize a migraine headache. This type of headache can be episodic or constantly present.

Cluster headaches get their name from their characteristic timing. They occur about several times a day for weeks to months, which is followed by a period of no headaches as if the headaches are clustered together in a single time period. A headache is a severe deep pain occurring on one side of the head, usually in the eye or temple. Accompanying symptoms may include tear formation, eye redness, sweating, and nasal congestion on the same side as the headache.

Secondary Headaches and Warning Signs

Besides primary headache, there is also headache from secondary causes, including sinus infections, head trauma, glaucoma, and caffeine withdrawal. Types of headaches that are uncommon but serious include brain tumors, intracranial bleeding, and giant cell arteritis (a.k.a. temporal arteritis), which is inflammation of the arteries and associated with a risk for blindness if left untreated.

While there is no need to see the doctor for every single headache, it is still a good idea to know the types of headaches that warrant immediate attention. If the headache is getting worse despite treatment or is suddenly severe from the start, one should immediately call the doctor or go to the nearest emergency department. In addition, headaches associated with symptoms such as numbness, fainting, fever, and stiff neck should also be evaluated as soon as possible. One should not assume such a headache to be an innocent one or else serious consequences may occur.

Final Words

The causes of headaches summarized above should provide a better understanding of what appears benign and what might not be. Nevertheless, it is advisable to talk to a doctor if there is doubt about headaches that occur.

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