Headache is defined as a pain arising from the head or upper neck of the body. A headache can be a sign of stress or emotional distress, or it can result from a medical disorder, such as migraine or high blood pressure, anxiety, or depression. It can lead to other problems.
A headache can occur in any part of the head, on both sides of the head, or in just one location.
The International Headache Society (IHS) categorize headaches as primary, when they are not caused by another condition, or secondary, when there is a further underlying cause.
There are three major categories of headache based upon the source of the pain.
- Primary headaches
- Secondary headaches
- Cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches
Primary headaches are caused directly by the over activity of, or problems with, structures in the head that are pain-sensitive. This includes the blood vessels, muscles, and nerves of the head and neck. Common primary headaches include migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches.
Secondary headaches are symptoms that happen when another condition stimulates the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. A wide range of different factors can cause secondary headaches.
- alcohol-induced hangover
- brain tumour
- blood clots
- bleeding in or around the brain
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- teeth-grinding at night
- overuse of pain medication
- panic attacks
Tension headaches are the most common form of primary headache. Such headaches normally begin slowly and gradually in the middle of the day. They present as a dull, constant pain felt on both sides of the head
Tension-type headaches can be either episodic or chronic. Episodic attacks are usually a few hours in duration, but it can last for several days. Chronic headaches occur for 15 or more days a month for a period of at least 3 months.
A migraine headache may cause a pulsating, throbbing pain usually only on one side of the head. The person may experience a heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and smell. Nausea and vomiting are also common.
Migraine is the second most common form of primary headache and can have a significant impact on the life of an individual. A migraine can last from a few hours to between 2 and 3 days.
Rebound or medication-overuse headaches causes from an excessive use of medication to treat headache symptoms. They are the most common cause of secondary headaches. They usually begin early in the day and persist throughout the day. They may improve with pain medication, but worsen when its effects wear off.
Cluster headaches usually last between 15 minutes and 3 hours, and they occur suddenly once per day up to eight times per day for a period of weeks to months. In between clusters, there may be no headache symptoms, and this headache-free period can last months to years.
The pain caused by cluster headaches is:
- often described as sharp or burning
- typically located in or around one eye
These are sudden, severe headaches that are often described as the “worst headache of my life.” They reach maximum intensity in less than one minute and last longer than 5 minutes.
17 types of headaches
- Primary tension headaches that are episodic
- Primary tension headaches that are chromic
- Primary muscle contraction headaches
- Primary migraine headaches with aura
- Primary migraine headaches without aura
- Primary cluster headache
- Primary paroxysmal hemicranias (a type of cluster headache)
- Primary cough headache
- Primary stabbing headache
- Primary headache associated with sexual intercourse
- Primary thunderclap headache
- Hypnic headache (headaches that awaken a person from sleep)
- Hemicrania continua (headaches that are persistently on one side only, right or left [unilateral])
- New daily-persistent headache (NDPH) (a type of chronic headache)
- Headache from exertion
- Trigeminal neuralgia and other cranial nerve inflammation
- Secondary headaches