Types of Headaches: Common Causes and Treatments

Headaches are one of the most common pain conditions in the world, with up to 75% of adults having experienced a headache in the past year. There are many different types of headaches, each with its own set of symptoms, severity levels, and treatment options. The most common types of headaches that cause people to seek medical attention are primary headaches, tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. Tension headaches are the most common type of headache among adults and adolescents.

They cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over time. Symptoms usually include a dull, aching sensation throughout the body, as well as tenderness or pain around the muscles of the neck, forehead, or shoulders. Most tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to relieve symptoms. Sinus headaches occur when the sinus cavity becomes inflamed due to allergies, illnesses, or dry weather.

They are associated with deep, persistent pain in the cheekbones, forehead or bridge of the nose. Pain often increases with sudden head movements and occurs with other sinus symptoms such as runny nose, fever, and facial swelling. Sinus headaches are treated by reducing the accumulation of mucus that causes sinus pressure. Over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines and prescription steroid nasal sprays may help relieve symptoms. Exertional headaches can occur immediately after periods of intense physical activity such as running, lifting weights, or having sex.

These short-term, stabbing headaches can occur on both sides of the head and are easily treated with over-the-counter pain relievers and melatonin. Migraines can cause throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, and sensitivity to light, noise, or smell. Migraines may be preceded by visual disturbances such as halos, flashing lights, zigzag lines, or blind spots. Many women often experience headaches related to hormonal fluctuations such as menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, and hormonal contraceptives. A primary headache is caused by hyperactivity or problems with pain-sensitive structures in the head. A primary headache is not a symptom of an underlying disease.

Chemical activity in the brain, nerves, or blood vessels surrounding the skull or muscles of the head and neck (or some combination of these factors) may influence primary headaches. A secondary headache is a symptom of a disease that can activate the pain-sensitive nerves in the head. Any number of conditions that vary greatly in severity can cause secondary headaches. The symptoms of headache can help the doctor determine its cause and appropriate treatment. Most headaches are not the result of a serious illness but some may be the result of a life-threatening condition that requires emergency care. Once you know the type of headache you have, you and your doctor can find the treatment that is likely to help you and even try to prevent it.

You may be more susceptible to this type of headache if you use over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers often.

Debora Lehneis
Debora Lehneis

Award-winning food advocate. Subtly charming bacon practitioner. Alcohol enthusiast. Proud travel aficionado. Incurable twitter scholar.

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