Types of headaches you should know about

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

A headache is the most common type of pain that every person have experienced. It is pain that can be mild to severe that is felt in the head, scalp, and sometimes may travel to the neck. While most headaches can last for a short period of time, other types may linger for hours and sometimes days. Treatments may include changes in lifestyle, relaxation and sometimes drug therapy is needed. Here is a deeper look into the different types of headaches.

What are the types of headache?

While these headaches are not life-threatening, they may be a sign of a more serious health condition such as a stroke. Headaches are classified into different types. The most common types are:

  • Tension headaches are the most common out of headache types. It’s often called the “every day” headache that everyone will experience in their lifetime. It feels like a constant pain that occurs both sides of the head. You may also feel some tightening starting at the back of your neck and shoulder muscle then spread forward, and a feeling of pressure behind your eyes along with a dull squeezing feeling in your jaw. Tension headache can happen to anyone at any age, but it isn’t severe enough to interfere with your daily life. Most tension headaches will go away after 30 minutes to several days.
  • Migraines are severe headaches that are describe as a throbbing pain at the front or side of the head. It tends to begin on one side of your head then spread to both sides. Migraine may have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound. Migraine is a common health condition, affecting around one in every five women and around one in every 15 men.
  • Cluster headaches are excruciating attacks of pain in one side of the head, often felt around the eye. Cluster headache can wake you up at night. It usually occur every day, in bouts lasting several weeks or months at a time, before they subside.

Remission will often follow, which sometimes lasts months or years before the headaches start again. Unfortunately, about 10-20% of cluster headache are chronic.

  • Hormone headache often affects women especially nearing or during their menstrual cycle or menopause. Other triggers may be after pregnancy or while taking oral contraceptive pills.

 What are the causes of headache?

Sometimes your headache can be classified by cause. These may include the following:

Primary headaches

Primary headaches are usually caused by overactive pain receptors in your head. It is thought that there are chemical activity that occur in your brain, nerves, blood vessels inside and outside of your skull and muscles in your head and neck. Primary headaches are usually not a result from another health condition.  Types of primary headaches are migraines, tension headaches, cluster headaches and hormone headaches.

There are some factors that can cause primary headaches. These factors include:

  • Alcohol, particularly red wine;
  • Certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates;
  • Changes in sleep or lack of sleep;
  • Poor posture;
  • Skipped meals;
  • Stress.

 Secondary headaches

Secondary headaches are usually caused by a more serious underlying health condition. These conditions may include:

  • Bleeding in the area between the brain and the thin tissue that covers the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage).
  • Blood pressure that is very high.
  • Brain infection, such as meningitis or encephalitis, or abscess.
  • Brain tumour.
  • Build-up of fluid inside the skull that leads to brain swelling (hydrocephalus).
  • Build-up of pressure inside the skull that appears to be, but is not a tumor (pseudomotor cerebri).
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Lack of oxygen during sleep (sleep apnea).
  • Problems with the blood vessels and bleeding in the brain, such as arteriovenous malformation (AVM), brain aneurysm, or stroke.

When should I see the doctor for my headache?

Although most headache can go away with rest and relaxation, severe headaches can indicate serious issues. You should see your doctor if your headache:

  • It occurs suddenly and is very severe – often described as a blinding pain unlike anything experienced before.
  • It doesn’t go away and gets worse over time.
  • It occurs after a severe head injury.
  • It’s triggered suddenly by coughing, laughing, sneezing, changes in posture, or physical exertion.
  • You have symptoms suggesting a problem with your brain or nervous system, including weakness, slurred speech, confusion, memory loss, and drowsiness.
  • You have additional symptoms, such as a high temperature (fever), a stiff neck, a rash, jaw pain while chewing, vision problems, a sore scalp, or severe pain and redness in one of your eyes.

What are the treatments for headache?

Tension-type and migraine headaches aren’t life-threatening and can go away with lifestyle changes. You can reduce your headache by practicing relaxation technique such as:

  • Yoga;
  • Massage;
  • Exercise;
  • Applying a hot flannel to your forehead and neck.

There are some mild pain relievers you can purchase at your local pharmacy. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and paracetamol. But for more severe headaches, stronger pain releivers can be prescribed by your doctor. Stronger medications may include the following:

  • Sumatriptan injections, which you can give yourself up to twice a day.
  • Sumatriptan or zolmitriptan nasal spray, which can be used if you would prefer not to have injections.
  • Oxygen therapy, where you breathe pure oxygen through a mask.

What are some tips to prevent headache?

If you experience frequent tension-type headaches, you may wish to keep a diary to try to identify what could be triggering them. It may then be possible to alter your diet or lifestyle to prevent them occurring as often.

It may also help to maintain a generally healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, sleep and meals, as well as ensuring you stay well hydrated and limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol.

Regular exercise and relaxation are also important measures to help reduce stress and tension that may be causing headaches. Maintaining good posture and ensuring you’re well rested and hydrated can also help.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Review Date: September 8, 2016 | Last Modified: December 8, 2019

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