There are several types of headaches with different symptoms and causes. Although most cases of headaches are short-lived and are not a cause for particular concern, still distinguishing what type of headache it is, can significantly help us in choosing therapy, but also in understanding whether / when we need professional help.

Headaches are one of the most common problems among the population (one of the 10 most common reasons why patients go to the doctor). According to the WHO, almost every person experiences a certain type of headache from time to time.

Although they can be really exhausting, painful, and unpleasant, most of the headaches can be successfully treated in just a few hours, with simple analgesic medications.

But when it comes to pain that comes up again and again or maybe it lasts for most of the day, we need to pay more attention. It may be a more serious condition/disease.

In the following article, what are the most common types of headaches? What are their causes? How to treat and prevent them? When is it time to seek professional help?

Primary headaches

Headaches that are not caused by some other “hidden” cause.

Migraine pain

People who suffer from such headaches feel intense throbbing pain on only one side of the head. Pain can be accompanied by a strong sensitivity to light, sound, and even smell. Nausea and vomiting are also not uncommon.

Migraine is 3 times more common in the female population, and even 1/4 of the patients suffering from migraines, face the so-called. aura symptoms (15 minutes to 1 hour before the usual migraine symptoms): 

  • visual problems (zigzag lines, flickering light, and even temporarily lost vision)
  • numbness in the neck, shoulders, and limbs 
  • problems with disturbed balance and coordination 
  • speech problems 
  • tingling in the arms and legs 
  • muscle weakness 
  • confusion

Keep in mind that these symptoms are similar to those of stroke and meningitis, so if they are appearing for the first time, or you suspect something unusual and you know you have frequent problems with migraine, be sure to call a doctor.

Migraine pains tend to tingle (several times a week, up to once a year), and a single “attack” can last up to 3 days. Unfortunately, for many, migraines are a permanent problem.

The reasons for this are not yet fully understood. However, we know that genetics play a role, as migraines are often inherited and migraine pain is more common in certain groups of people, such as those suffering from depression or epilepsy.

Migraine attacks can be triggered by stress, anxiety, disturbed sleep habits, hormonal imbalance, skipping meals, dehydration, certain foods and medications, strong light, loud noise, etc.

There are several appropriate medications to prevent and treat migraine attacks. You can alleviate your pain by resting in a dark and quiet room, drinking more water and fluids, avoiding coffee and alcoholic beverages, and putting cold compresses on the sore spot.

Tension headache

The most common type of headache, which due to this fact is often called “ordinary headache”. It is mild to moderate and people usually do not complain about it, but they experience it up to several times a month. However, research shows that its frequent occurrence can affect the working capacity of the individual, but also impair the general quality of life.

Symptoms include a feeling of discomfort in the head, neck, and shoulders, pressure behind the eyes, and sensitivity to light and loud sounds.

This headache is caused by pressure in the head and neck muscles. Unlike migraine, it passes much faster even without therapy and is usually not accompanied by nausea and vomiting. 

The exact causes are not known in this type of headache, and it is thought that it can be triggered by:

  • dehydration
  • loud sound
  • lack of physical activity
  • disturbed sleep
  • skipping meals
  • eye strain

There is also appropriate therapy (analgesic) to deal with tension headaches, but it is important to know that lifestyle changes can significantly help in its treatment and prevention: good sleeping habits, healthy eating, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, regular exercise and stretching, good management of stress and depression, frequent preventive eye examinations, proper sitting, acupuncture, etc.

“Cluster ” headaches

This type of headache is the most intense, they often come back (sometimes for weeks and months), and are 6 times more likely to occur in men. They come suddenly, completely suddenly, and last from 15 minutes to 3 hours. More “attacks” are possible in one day.

People describe these headaches as intense pain in the area around one eye, accompanied by a feeling of pressure and severe burning. Other symptoms include watery eyes, severe irritability, swollen eyelids, stuffy nose, severe anxiety, etc.

The symptoms of these headaches can be confused with those of pollen fever, so patients (especially those who are experiencing it for the first time) should consult a doctor. There are appropriate medications for this type of headache, and smoking prevention and avoidance of alcohol have a strong impact.

Headaches from strenuous exertion

They are caused by strenuous physical exertion, such as: running, jumping, weight training, sexual intercourse, coughing and sneezing attacks, etc. They are usually short-lived but sometimes last 1-2 days.

They occur in the form of throbbing pain in the head and are more common in those who have family members who suffer from migraines.

Treatment includes analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, beta-blockers. 

The best prevention is warming up before training, adequate rest during exercise (if it is too strenuous), but also days off (daily intense physical activity is not a healthy habit!).

Secondary headaches

A type of headache that is a symptom of another condition, such as a head injury or caffeine “crisis.”

Secondary headaches can be:

Headaches due to over-intensive use of medication – among other medications, overuse of the headache medication itself can be a cause of unpleasant headaches.

Sinus headaches – due to swollen and/or infected sinuses from an allergy or infection. These headaches are less common and are accompanied by symptoms such as a stuffy nose, fever, nausea, etc. If you do not have the other typical symptoms, it is quite likely that it is migraine pain, so if you have dilemmas, consult your family doctor.

“Caffeine ” headaches – excessive consumption (over 400mg) of caffeinated beverages, such as coffee (4 cups), carbonated beverages, energy drinks, teas, etc. If you suddenly stop drinking coffee and consume at least two cups a day (equivalent to 200mg of caffeine), headaches reminiscent of migraine headaches are possible.

Headaches due to physical injuries – sports injuries, traffic accidents, etc.

Menstrual headaches – due to hormonal changes that occur during the period (natural changes in estrogen levels).

“Hangover ” headaches – due to excessive alcohol consumption. The best advice for these headaches is to drink more water and electrolyte drinks.

When to see a doctor?

As we have said, most headaches are milder and very rarely a symptom of another more serious illness. However, individuals suffering from severe pain that lasts a long time and often recurs or worsens over time should consult a physician. Medical assistance is necessary when:

  • The pain comes suddenly and is quite intense
  • Headaches after some physical injury
  • Headaches accompanied by confusion, impaired vision, balance, or speech
  • Headaches accompanied by weakness, numbness, and chronic fatigue
  • Headaches combined with fever, intense itching, and stiffness of the neck
  • Headaches with a constant need to vomit