Headaches are a common complaint, but the type of pain and its location can tell you a lot about the cause. While the brain itself cannot feel pain, the pain-sensitive nerves in the muscles and blood vessels surrounding the head, neck, and face can be triggered by stress, muscle tension, allergens, lack of sleep, dehydration, and many other things. Knowing what type of headache you have is essential to finding relief and potentially preventing them in the future. The most common type of headache is a tension headache, which usually starts later in the day and lasts at least half an hour.
Sinus headaches are usually a symptom of a sinus infection, which is usually bacterial. Cluster headaches are rarer than migraines and tension headaches, but they tend to occur in a certain location. They usually occur at night and tend to come back at the same time every day. The hypothalamus, an area located at the base of the brain, is responsible for the body's biological clock and can be the source of this type of headache.
If you experience pain at the base of the skull that radiates upward, it could be due to a rare type of chronic headache called occipital neuralgia. If you experience headaches that radiate from your neck to the back of your head, you may have a cervicogenic headache. Provoked by overuse of medications, rebound headaches can trigger a vicious cycle of headaches caused by the drug intended to treat them. Tension headaches are painful and patients may be upset because the diagnosis is just a tension headache.
However, there are also subtle differences in the location of the headache and other symptoms that can help distinguish one type of pain from another. If you have a headache that could be described as the “worst headache of your life” or a “feeling of thunder”, you could be experiencing a stroke, a brain aneurysm, or a brain hemorrhage and you should call 911 immediately. The key to treating a headache is understanding what type it has, what triggers it, and addressing that specific problem. Your doctor may also be able to connect you with support groups, give you medication, or arrange oxygen therapy, which has been shown to help reduce the number of cluster headaches. Knowing what type of headache you have is critical to finding relief and potentially preventing them in the future.