Headaches are a common and often debilitating condition that can affect people of all ages. The Department of Neurology at the National Institute of Neuroscience (NNI) identifies three primary types of headaches: tension headaches, migraine headaches, and cluster headaches. Each type of headache has its own unique symptoms, causes, and treatments. 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 may include a dull ache or pressure in the head, neck, or shoulders. Common causes of tension headaches include lack of sleep, increased stress, skipping meals, dehydration, illness or medical conditions, anxiety or changes at home, work, or school. Treatment for tension headaches may include prescription and over-the-counter medications, stress management, and treatment of any underlying disease or condition.
Migraine headaches are more severe than tension headaches and can cause intense throbbing pain on one side of the head. Other symptoms may include nausea or sensitivity to light. Migraines can be triggered by certain foods, stress, hormones, or environmental factors. Treatment for migraines may include medications to reduce pain and prevent future attacks as well as lifestyle changes such as avoiding triggers and getting enough sleep.
Cluster headaches are the least common type of primary headache but can be the most severe. They cause intense pain on one side of the head that can last for hours or days at a time. Other symptoms may include redness in the eye on the affected side and a runny nose. Cluster headaches are believed to be caused by changes in brain chemicals such as serotonin and histamine.
Treatment for cluster headaches may include medications to reduce pain and prevent future attacks as well as lifestyle changes such as avoiding triggers and getting enough sleep. In addition to these three main types of primary headache, migraine, TTH, and CT, ICHD-3 lists some diverse primary headaches including primary cough, exercise, cold stimulus, and sexual activity headache which are named for their various triggers. It is important to talk to your primary care doctor if you have any type of headache all the time so they can help you create a treatment plan or refer you to a specialist.