What are the types of headaches?

There are many types of headaches. Each type has different causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Nausea and vomiting can be a sign of a headache.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. They’re sometimes called primary headaches. They’re often caused by physical or emotional stress.

Tension headaches are often associated with stress and anxiety.

These headaches are often described as a tight band around the head, neck, or face. They often feel tight and painful.

Tension headaches usually last from 30 minutes to a few hours. They may occur on both sides of the head, but they also can be on just one side.

These headaches are often brought on by:

  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Tension in the muscles
  • Tense neck
  • Tight muscles in the face
  • Tight jaw
  • Heavy breathing
  • Drinking or eating
  • Alcohol
  • Eating spicy foods or caffeine
  • Foods that contain high amounts of potassium
  • Hormonal changes
  • Certain medicines, such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • Physical or emotional trauma

Sinus headaches

Sinus headaches are a type of headache caused by an obstruction in the sinuses.

The sinuses are hollow cavities in the head that are filled with mucus and other fluids. All sinuses are connected to the nose.

Common symptoms of sinus headaches include:

  • Pressure in the forehead, eyes, cheeks, and sinuses
  • Pain that radiates to the ear
  • Pain when eating or drinking
  • Headaches after physical or emotional stress
  • Headaches at night or after resting

Sinus headaches are often linked to chronic sinus infections.

Tension-type headaches

Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache.

They cause moderate to severe pain on both sides of the head. They sometimes cause nausea, vomiting, and light or sound sensitivity.

The pain is often described as a band across the forehead, eye area, and sides of the head. They often last from 30 minutes to a few hours.

Tension-type headaches are often brought on by:

  • Physical or emotional stressful situations
  • Tense muscles in the neck
  • Caffeine

Migraine headaches

Migraine headaches are severe headaches that can be experienced on both sides of the head.

Migraine is a neurological disorder that causes extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and movement.

Migraine headaches can come and go. They typically last from 4 to 72 hours. Migraine headaches can be characterized by:

  • Visual symptoms such as flashing lights and blind spots
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Headaches that are worsened by physical or emotional stress

Migraine headaches are often brought on by:

  • Stress
  • Medications
  • Certain foods
  • Emotional trauma

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are a type of headache that causes severe pain on both sides of the head. They’re often brought on by:

  • Emotional or physical trauma
  • High blood pressure
  • Hot or cold temperatures
  • Alcohol intake

Cluster headaches are often accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

These symptoms are also caused by other conditions. See your doctor to determine the cause of your headache.

Treatment options

Many different types of headaches have different treatments.

Nausea and vomiting

Pain associated with nausea and vomiting may be treated with:

  • Antihistamines
  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen
  • Decongestants
  • Pain relievers
  • Decongestant sprays
  • Laxatives
  • Anti-diarrhea medications

Other symptoms

Migraine and cluster headaches are often accompanied by other symptoms. These symptoms may also be treated.

For example, if you’re experiencing a migraine, you may be instructed to:

  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
  • Take some type of migraine medication if your doctor has prescribed one.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Rest and get plenty of rest.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol.

It may also be necessary to take certain medications, such as:

  • Anti-seizure medications, such as gabapentin (Neurontin).
  • Blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin).
  • Antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil).
  • Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of cluster headaches, your doctor may prescribe:

  • Medicines to stop the cluster headaches, called abortive medications.
  • Medicines to ease the pain, called abortive medications.
  • Medicines to stop the cluster headaches, called preventive medications.

The symptoms of cluster headaches are often relieved by:

  • Antihistamine medications such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton).
  • Decongestant medications, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).

What you can do now?

The symptoms of a headache may be brought on by:

  • Physical or emotional situations
  • Headache triggers

If you’re experiencing a headache, make an appointment with your doctor. You should also see your doctor if your headache is accompanied by nausea or vomiting.

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and review your symptoms and your medical history.

Treatment may be necessary for some types of headaches. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes to ease the symptoms.

In some cases, an underlying condition may be diagnosed and treated. If you have a headache, you should see your doctor right away.

Your doctor will review your symptoms and conduct a physical exam.

If you’re experiencing a migraine or cluster headache, you should see your doctor. These types of headaches can be severe.

You may be given a prescription for a medication called an abortive medication. This is a drug that will stop the headache.

You may also be given a prescription for a preventive or abortive medication. These are drugs that will ease the headache.

If you’re experiencing cluster headaches, you should see your doctor. These types of headaches are more common in children.

If your headache is severe, your doctor may prescribe a medication to stop the cluster headaches. This type of medication is called an abortive medication.

The most common medications for cluster headaches are prochlorperazine (Compazine), metoclopramide (Reglan), and sumatriptan (Imitrex).

You may also be prescribed a preventive or abortive medication. These types of medications ease the headaches.

The bottom line

Headaches are common. You may be able to prevent or ease symptoms by making certain lifestyle changes.

If you’re having a headache, make an appointment with your doctor. You should also see your doctor if your headaches are accompanied by nausea or other symptoms.

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