Medically, headache is not a sign; it is a symptom.
Medically, headache is not a sign; it is a symptom. It can occur as a separate entity (primary headache) or as a symptom of various underlying conditions (secondary headache).
Most people have experienced a headache many times in their life. You may get headaches from causes as simple as stress to as dangerous as a brain tumor.
What are the types of primary headaches?
Primary headaches are the ones that happen in the absence of other medical conditions. The headache itself is the main problem, and it often comes in the form of attacks or episodes.
There are three most common types of primary headaches. They are
1. Tension headache
- This is also called muscle contraction or stress headaches.
- This is the most common headache that makes up 90% of all headaches.
- It can affect up to 78% of Americans at some point in their life.
- You feel tight pressure all over your head, sometimes in your neck and shoulder, and soreness in your temples.
- These headaches are usually due to stress, anxiety, excessive worry, or tiredness.
2. Migraine headache
- This affects nearly 15% of American adults.
- This typically lasts between 4 and 72 hours.
- It is uncommon to have more than one attack of migraine in a day.
- Migraine pain can vary in location; it can develop on just one side of the head, behind the eye, in the back or front of the head, or felt throughout the head. The headache is often more severe on one side of the head.
- The episodes of migraines are usually triggered by hormonal fluctuations, physical activities, noise, or sudden exposure to bright light.
- Nausea, vomiting, visual, and auditory disturbances may accompany a migraine headache.
- Things like lying down and switching off the lights or going in a darker room usually relieve a migraine headache.
- You are more likely to get a migraine if you have close relatives suffering from it.
3. Cluster headache
- The least common type of headaches, affecting less than 1 in 1,000 people.
- These are sudden, very painful headaches on one side of your head.
- A cluster headache lasts about 30 to 90 minutes. You can have eight such clusters/attacks in a single day.
- Cluster headaches involve only one side of the head, which is typically the temple or around the eye.
- Usually, signs and symptoms, such as eye redness, tearing, or nasal congestion, develop on the side of the face where the headache is located.
- Triggering factors include lack of sleep or irregular sleep, alcohol (especially red wine), and smoking.
- Head injury and family history make you more likely to get cluster headaches.
What are the causes of secondary headaches? 17 most common causes
Headaches, other than primary headaches, are known as secondary headaches, and they present as signs to other illnesses.
Digestive system disorders, such as dyspepsia, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), etc. are the most common causes of headaches. This type of headache, also known as gastrointestinal headache, may be considered either as a primary headache (migraine) or secondary headache due to disturbances in the digestive system.
Other most common causes of secondary headaches include:
- Refractive errors (such as nearsightedness and farsightedness)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Viral infections (such as influenza and coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19)
- Any kind of fever
- Acute sinusitis (sinus infection)
- Dehydration due to vomiting, diarrhea
- Dental problems
- Ear infection (particularly middle ear infections)
- Glaucoma (an eye disorder caused by high pressure in the eyes)
- Motion sickness (travel sickness)
- High altitude sickness (mountain sickness)
- Overuse of pain medication (rebound headache)
- A side effect of certain medications
- Head trauma
- Foods items containing monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Less common but serious causes of headache include:
- Epilepsy (a brain disorder characterized by frequent, unpredictable seizures)
- Stroke (blocked blood vessel or bleeding in a certain area of the brain resulting in weakness on one side of the body)
- Intracranial hematoma (collection of blood in the skull, most often as a result of head injury)
- Brain tumor
- Trigeminal neuralgia (a disorder involving irritation of certain nerves connecting the face and brain)
- Encephalitis (brain inflammation)
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- A brain aneurysm (a bulge in an artery in your brain)
- Arnold-Chiari malformation (a structural problem at the base of your skull occurring by birth)
- Brain arteriovenous malformation (an abnormal formation of brain blood vessels)
You should always visit a doctor if you are experiencing any severe and sudden headache for the first time in your life or when you experience a headache with unusual symptoms, such as weakness in your limbs. Alternatively, you can call on 911, the emergency helpline number.
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Medically Reviewed on 9/21/2020
Headache disorders: differentiating and managing the common subtypes. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590146/
Gastrointestinal Headache; a Narrative Review. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5007907/
Tension Headache vs. Migraine: How to Tell the Difference. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraine-vs-tension-headache