Health Condition

Different Types of Headaches and Their Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Headches and Symptoms
  • Headaches are the worst. Whether you get one in the morning before going to work, on the train, or while you’re at a party, headaches can ruin your whole day. One of the worst parts of having headaches is not knowing whether it’s severe or not.

Sure, it could just be a stress headache that goes away with Tylenol, but what if it isn’t? What if it is the type of headache you have to worry about, and you just don’t know it? That’s why today we’re going to tell you all about the different types of headaches, their causes, symptoms, and treatment, so you don’t have to make a trip to the ER over nothing! But before we do that, let’s get into the essence of what headaches are.

What Is The Medical Definition Of a Headache?

According to Dr. Benjamin Wedro, “Headache or head pain sometimes can be difficult to describe, but some common symptoms include throbbing, squeezing, constant, unrelenting, or intermittent. The location may be in one part of the face or skull or may be generalized involving the whole head.”

Alright, so nothing too new. We’ve all had gotten headaches from time to time, that creeping pain in your brow that makes you want to lay down in a dark room and take a nap in the middle of the day. But what creates this annoying sensation? Let’s dive into that now with the causes of headaches.

How are Headaches Classified?

Headaches are usually classified by whether they’re caused by general triggers (such as harsh light and sound) or underlying conditions like bacterial infections. Primary headaches are caused by general triggers and are easily treatable, while secondary headaches are usually signs of underlying issues.

What Causes Headaches?

According to Cleveland Clinic, “Headache pain results from signals interacting among the brain, blood vessels, and surrounding nerves. During a headache, an unknown mechanism activates specific nerves that affect muscles and blood vessels. These nerves send pain signals to the brain. It doesn’t seem too scary, right? It’s just a simple mechanism that goes off in your brain. There are other causes for headaches, including stress, extreme sensitivity to harsh lights and sounds, not getting enough sleep, hormonal changes, and even taking too many medications for headaches, usually OTC (over the counter.)

Headaches can also be caused by ‘triggers’ essential things in your environment that set off headaches. These triggers can be a wide range of things, including harsh lights, loud noises, stressful situations, lack of sleep, etc. However, some headaches have more severe causes. These are usually headaches caused by head injuries or underlying illnesses, such as sinusitis. In these cases, the headaches are usually more severe and last a more extended period. Some of these headaches can last up to 12 months and cause severe difficulties focusing and even brain damage. But if this mechanism we mentioned before for everyone, that begs the question: why can they feel so different varying from person to person? Well, the answer is more straightforward than you think.

What Different Types Of Headaches Are There?

According to Harvard Med, headaches can be classified into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary headaches are the ones that you don’t need to worry about.

In the words of their experts: “While the pain from primary headaches can be disabling, the headaches are not dangerous.” This is mainly because primary headaches aren’t symptoms of an underlying disease or condition. The only problem is the headache itself which can be caused by several things but can be very easily treated. Secondary headaches, on the other hand, are a bit different. According to Medical News Today, “A secondary headache is a symptom of something else, such as a headache resulting from a head injury or sudden caffeine withdrawal.”

This is why they can be a more significant cause for concern since these types of headaches usually signal an underlying problem. Primary headaches are usually much milder and have less cause for concern. These headaches are most commonly treated with over-the-counter medication, which can be found at any pharmacy. While they are annoying and can genuinely put a damper on your day or your week, primary headaches are nothing to get worried about, much less rush to the ER for. Symptoms of primary headaches are also commonplace. All of us are familiar with sensitivity to harsh lights and loud noises, fatigue, throbbing pain, which can ruin our focus, etc. But secondary headaches are a completely different type of deal. As we mentioned before, secondary headaches are usually signs of underlying issues such as bacterial infections, sinuses, hormonal imbalances, etc. This is why symptoms of these medications are more severe and can cause nausea, projectile vomiting, losing consciousness, etc.

While these headaches can be very scary, they are, in fact, treatable. Better meds exist to manage the pain, and there are also specialized meds to deal with each of the symptoms. For example, some secondary headaches cause heavy nasal discharge (or mucus), which can be treated with certain drugs that dry up your nose so that you can breathe more easily. In both primary and secondary headaches, several different sub-types have their own set of descriptions. Next up, we will be talking about those sub-types, including causes, symptoms, and medication.

Different Types of Headches

Primary Headaches

Alright, let’s start with the easy ones: primary headaches. Your run of the mill, sometimes tricky to ignore head pain. There are five types of primary headaches, which include:

Migraines

These are very common as well as infamous for their intense pain. A migraine is typically characterized by intense throbbing pain on one specific side of the head. Migraines can be prevalent, especially among older adults and people who generally experience severe stress in their lives or have a history of migraines in their families. Some people even experience migraines daily and need different drugs to treat them.

Symptoms:

  • Throbbing pain one side
  • Heightened sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells
  • Nausea

Experiencing an aura a couple of minutes before the onset of a migraine, which may include:

  • Seeing zig-zagging lines, flickering lights, or spots
  • Partial loss of vision
  • Numbness
  • Pins and needles
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty speaking

Causes:

Migraines can be triggered (or set-off) by several things, including:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Sleep disruption
  • Hormonal changes
  • Skipped meals
  • Dehydration
  • Some foods and medications
  • Bright lights and loud noise

Medication:

  • OTC (over-the-counter) painkillers such as ibuprofen or aspirin, which can decrease the intensity and duration of a migraine
  • Metoclopramide or ondansetron are antiemetic drugs that help with nausea and vomiting.
  • Triptan type drugs such as sumatriptan or rizatriptan for migraines that are more difficult to treat

If migraines are very intense, doctors may prescribe drugs to prevent them, including:

  • Topiramate
  • Propranolol
  • Amitriptyline

If you experience migraines on more than 15 days per month, consider contacting your primary healthcare physician since this is a sign of heavier migraines.

Tension Headaches

Every college student’s sworn enemy. Tension headaches are prevalent, especially to people who are used to being up all night studying for exams and completing last-minute projects.

As their name suggests, tension headaches are caused by prolonged emotional stress and general tension. This is why these headaches are also familiar with high-level executives and people who have stressful and demanding jobs in general.

Symptoms:

  • Tenderness of the face, head, neck, and shoulders
  • A feeling of pressure behind the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Causes:

  • Dehydration
  • Loud noise
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor sleep
  • Bad posture
  • Skipped meals
  • Eye strain

Medication:

  • OTC painkillers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin tend to be very effective at reducing pain.

Cluster Headaches

You’ve probably never heard of these since they are hyper-specific and usually not learned in most high schools. Cluster headaches are frequent and severe, with many causing intense burning or piercing sensations behind or around one eye. Causes are generally unknown and are still being studied today. Still, many experts believe it could be related to smoking or heavy alcohol consumption since both of these contain chemicals that can affect your brain over time.

Nicotine, in general, is not suitable for nervous symptoms, causing many problems later on, and alcohol can be even worse. This is why MRI scans of alcoholics show holes in their grey matter since the alcohol in their system ends up consuming neurons.

Symptoms:

  • Watering eye
  • Swollen eyelid
  • A blocked or a runny nose
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Restlessness or agitation

Causes:

  • Chain-smoking
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol

Medication:

  • Topiramate
  • Sumatriptan
  • Verapamil
  • Steroids
  • Melatonin
  • Lithium

Exertional Headaches

These types of headaches are most common in athletes since they’re often triggered by intense physical exercise. Strenuous workouts or exercising too intensely without proper training are the most common culprits of these types of headaches. Many athletes who play support that is very physically demanding, such as football, wrestling, MMA fighting, and sprinting, often experience these headaches after prolonged training periods without rest.

These headaches can also occur for people who aren’t millionaires, especially if you just got a personal trainer and haven’t run since high school.

Symptoms:

  • Throbbing pain throughout the head
  • Fatigue

Causes:

  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Weight lifting
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Bouts of coughing or sneezing

Hypnic Headaches

Despite what their name suggests, these headaches are not caused by hypnosis. Hypnic headaches are characterized by waking up people during the night, which is why they’re also called ‘alarm clock’ headaches. These headaches usually only appear in people in their early 50s but can sometimes be seen in much younger people.

Symptoms:

  • Mild to a moderate throbbing pain that is typically felt on opposites sides of the head
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Causes:

  • Unknown

Medication:

  • Caffeine tablets are taken before bedtime
  • Indomethacin
  • Melatonin
  • lithium.

Secondary Headaches

Alright, we’ve arrived at the somewhat scarier ones, secondary headaches. As we said before, these headaches are usually signs of underlying conditions and diseases, which can often be more severe and sometimes require immediate attention.

These headaches are usually your body telling you that something is wrong. You need to get it looked at right away, which is why it’s essential to contact your primary healthcare physician if you perceive any of these symptoms. Overall, there are seven types of secondary headaches, including:

Medication Overuse Headaches

That’s too right; taking too much medication can cause headaches. This is the most common type of secondary headache and is often characterized by frequent or daily headaches.

Symptoms:

  • Tenderness of the face, head, neck, and shoulders
  • A feeling of pressure behind the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Causes:

As their name suggests, Medication Overuse Headaches (or MOH) are usually caused by the taking of certain drugs, including:

  • Opioids
  • Acetaminophen
  • Triptans, such as sumatriptan
  • NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen

Medication:

This part doesn’t apply since the only way to treat them is to stop taking medication and wade through the withdrawal symptoms, which can cause significant discomfort., If you think you’re currently suffering from medication overuse headaches, contact your doctor right away.

Sinus Headaches

These are some of the most annoying types of headaches out there. Characterized by severe pain in the sinuses, these headaches can put a real damper on anyone’s workday.

Symptoms:

  • Dull, throbbing ache around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead
  • Pain that worsens with movement or straining and can sometimes spread to the teeth or the jaw
  • Thick green or yellow nasal discharge (mucus)
  • Blocked nose
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Causes:

  • Sinusitis (swelling of the sinuses)
  • Bacterial infection

Medication:

  • OTC painkillers
  • Nasal decongestants
  • Antibiotics (if a bacterial infection causes the headache)
  • Corticosteroid nasal spray to help reduce the swelling.

Caffeine Related Headaches

Few people can make it through their day without their morning cup of joe. However, all is good in moderation, and too much can cause some severe head pain.

Symptoms:

  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor mood or irritability
  • Nausea

Causes:

  • Consuming more than 400mg (or around four cups of coffee) a day
  • Consuming more than 200mg of coffee per week and then stopping abruptly

Medication:

  • Limiting caffeine consumption
  • OTC painkillers in the meantime

Head Injury Headaches

These are pretty self-explanatory. A heavy blow to the head can happen in several ways, such as banging your head on the table after trying to pick up something from under it or any other kind of accident that can cause severe head pain. These can often feel like a tension headache or bad migraine after the accident and can often be treated with OTC painkillers. However, if the person experiences any of the symptoms below, an ambulance needs to be called immediately since these are often signs of a more severe problem.

Symptoms:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Vision or hearing problems

These are often characterized are post-traumatic headaches and can occur months after the initial head injury, making them incredibly difficult to diagnose. They can sometimes occur daily and persist for up to 12 months.

Menstrual Headaches

Any woman can and will tell you that these headaches are an absolute… well, headache, no pun intended. Whenever it’s your time of the month, these headaches can cause you to stress out even more since they make it difficult to carry out daily tasks. These headaches are usually part of PMS (Period Menstrual Syndrome) and are one of the many, many downsides of having your period.

However, these types of headaches aren’t only linked to ovulating women since women who are going through menopause can experience them too. Menstrual headaches are caused by the hormonal imbalances that occur in your body whenever you get your period. Usually, estrogen levels spike up during this time, so women tend to feel more sensitive and emotional. Symptoms are very similar to those of migraines, including an aura for some people.

Symptoms:

  • Throbbing pain one side
  • Heightened sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells
  • Nausea

Experiencing an aura a couple of minutes before the onset of the headache, which may include:

  • Seeing zig-zagging lines, flickering lights, or spots
  • Partial loss of vision
  • Numbness
  • Pins and needles
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty speaking

Causes:

  • Changes in hormone levels such as the ones that happen during a woman’s period since estrogen levels naturally change
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Menopause
  • Pregnancy

Medication:

  • OTC painkillers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin
  • Taking a triptan or NSAID around the time of periods
  • Alternative oral contraception plans, such as omitting the pill-free break
  • Hormone replacement therapy for women undergoing menopause

Hangover Headaches

Every college student knows how bad these are. Whether you get them after a frat party, your sister’s wedding, or a night of drinking with your buddies, hangover headaches are prevalent after large consumptions of alcohol.

Symptoms:

  • Throbbing head pain felt on both sides of the head
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light and loud noises

Causes:

  • Large consumptions of alcohol

Medication:

  • OTC painkillers
  • ‘Hangover cures’ such as greasy food and strange beverages, which are often a heavy mix of vegetables and raw eggs

Rebound Headaches

Contrary to popular belief, these headaches are not caused by getting a rebound from your ex and having that person not want to leave your apartment afterward. Rebound headaches are just another name for over-medication headaches.

Symptoms:

  • Tenderness of the face, head, neck, and shoulders
  • A feeling of pressure behind the eyes
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Causes:

  • Taking medications that are used to treat headaches over an extended period

Medication:

  • This doesn’t apply since the only treatment for these types of headaches is just to stop taking OTC painkillers or whatever medication you were using to treat your headaches and wading through the withdrawal symptoms.

Please contact your doctor if you think you’re experiencing this kind of headache.

Wrap Up

To sum up, headaches are no fun and can be a pain to anyone. Still, for people who are often called hypochondriacs and constantly track their symptoms for the most minimum sign of a disease, they can be even worse since they can end up being incredibly scary. However, as we saw throughout the article, not all headaches are the same. Many types of headaches (specifically primary ones) are triggered by elementary environmental features like harsh lights and loud sounds.

While these types of headaches can be very annoying and sometimes even cause for concern, it is often a relief to know that they are very treatable with over-the-counter meds and just changing your environment in general. Secondary headaches are also not that terrifying. However, it is essential to monitor these symptoms since they can be pretty severe in headaches that occur after head injuries.

However, headaches are nothing to stress about overall. As we’ve seen, all headaches are treatable, and while some of the causes may be unknown, they can still be managed. This is why it’s essential to make regular visits to your doctor and show up for your checks ups so you can stay on top of them and not let underlying conditions sneak up on you.

Especially in cases where an underlying disease may be the issue, such as with Sinus headaches, it’s essential to contact your doctor so you can get treated for it. All in all, life is too fleeting to be constantly worrying about headaches and possible diseases. It’s much more advisable to try to stay healthy and still take care of yourself. As a wise woman once said, “you can’t let fear of the worst keep you from being your best.”

References:

  • https://www.medicinenet.com/headache/article.htm
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320767#when-to-see-a-doctor
  • https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-conditions/brain-and-nerves/headache/types.html
  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9639-headaches

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