What Does the Location of a Headache Mean?

Headaches are a common occurrence for many people, with tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches being the most common types. Cluster headaches are less frequent, but men are five times more likely to experience them. The pain is usually located behind or around one of the eyes, but it can also spread to the forehead, side of the head, nose, neck, or shoulders on the same side. Headache is defined as pain that arises from the head or upper neck of the body.

It originates in the tissues and structures that surround the skull or brain because the brain itself does not have nerves that give rise to the sensation of pain. The thin layer of tissue (periosteum) that surrounds the bones, muscles that line the skull, sinuses, eyes, and ears, as well as the thin tissues that cover the surface of the brain and spinal cord (meninges), arteries, veins, and nerves can become inflamed or irritated and cause headache. The pain can be dull, sharp, throbbing, constant, intermittent, mild or severe. Most headaches have an associated chemical or physical cause, a trigger such as a particular food, emotional stress or pressure.

Cluster headaches seem random and may be mostly genetic. They tend to occur at daily for periods of one week or more, followed by prolonged periods without headaches. Knowing what type of headache you have is critical to finding relief and potentially preventing them in the future. If an abnormality is found in a neurological examination, the diagnosis of tension headache should be discontinued until other causes are investigated.

It's estimated that nearly 75% of people worldwide have at least one headache each year. For chronic headaches, your doctor may prescribe medications based on the specific type of headache you have. If the location of the headache occurs mainly on one side of the head, it is likely to be migraine or cluster headache. Many so-called “sinus headaches” are actually tension headaches or migraines.

Cluster headaches occur in spurts or “flare-ups” where you may have regular headaches for a few weeks or months and then none for some time. However, there are subtle differences in location and other symptoms that can help distinguish one type of pain from another. Tension headaches usually start later in the day and last at least half an hour. James Otis, neurologist at Baystate Health and associate professor of neurology at UMASS CHAN School of Medicine — Baystate points out that most headaches experienced are diagnosed as primary headaches.

If you experience headaches that radiate from your neck to the back of your head, you may have a cervicogenic headache. Knowing what type of headache you are dealing with is important so that you can get the right treatment quickly. Each cluster headache can last as little as half an hour or several hours and often appear at the same time every day when you sleep - which is why they are called “alarm headaches”. 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.

Debora Lehneis
Debora Lehneis

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

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