Headaches are one of the common threads that tie humans together. Most people have had at least one. Overall, the types of headaches fall into two classifications: episodic and chronic. Episodic headaches pop up when triggered, last for no more than 15 days and then go away. Chronic headaches are prolonged episodes that last more than 15 days for at least three consecutive months. They don’t leave people pain-free for long or at all, which affects quality of life over time. Read our guide on the on different types of headaches.
Tension headaches are the most common types of headache. They are characterized by a combination of symptoms including, but not limited to the following:
According to MedLine, women are twice as likely to get tension headaches. They can occur once or twice a month and have many triggers, including fatigue, cold temperatures, alcohol or the common cold.
Characterized by cyclical patterns of unilateral pain known as clusters, cluster headaches are intense. These types of headaches wake people up in the middle of the night for anywhere between one and three hours on average. According to the Migraine Trust, pain can not only be localized around one eye, which switches sides from time to time but also around the temple or forehead.
Approximately 80 percent of cluster headaches are episodic, reaching peak intensity within the first five to 10 minutes. They typically occur once a year in Spring or Autumn. The remaining 20 percent are chronic and don’t leave room for any pain-free intervals. Triggers include strong smells, such as perfume or gas as well as becoming overheated.
In the medical community, sinus headaches are considered secondary symptoms that describe, in most cases, a form of a migraine. Also known as rhinosinusitis, they usually stem from inflammation of the sinuses caused by a bacterial or viral infection. During a bad cold, for example, rhinosinusitis symptoms include:
Sinus headaches don’t normally last more than seven days, and relief starts once the infection clears up on its own or with the help of antibiotics.
As a medical diagnosis, stress headaches aren’t official headache classifications. What many call stress headaches are tension headaches or migraines triggered by stress, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Stress-induced migraines are particularly debilitating. Hormones trigger vascular changes that cause pulsing on the side of the head that spreads. The result is significant pain, nausea, vomiting, which can be worsened by light, sound, smells and physical activity.
Depending on the type of pain, a headache in the back of the head can mean the difference between an inconvenience and a more serious medical condition. Migraines and tension headache pain can sit at the back of the head for a while. But there could be more localized reasons for that type of pain, such as:
When you have a headache behind the eyes, tension, cluster, sinus, and migraine headaches are easy culprits. But there are times when the pain is actually related to your eyes. Some causes of headache eye pain include:
Headaches crop up during the first and third trimesters, according to the American Pregnancy Association. During the first trimester, headaches are due to the increase in hormones and blood volume. Later on, the tension of the extra weight combined with poor posture leads to headaches during the third trimester. Ironically, those with migraines may have decreased occurrences during pregnancy.
However, there is another risk that needs to be addressed. Pregnancy headaches may be a symptom of preeclampsia, an increase in blood pressure that could be fatal if not monitored and treated.
A headache at the top of the head feels like a weight pressing down. That uncomfortable pressure may be accompanied by neck and shoulder tension. Mild and moderate causes include migraines, tension headaches, colds or sinus headaches, some of which can be easily treated. More serious causes range from cluster headaches to blood clots to tumors. To form a better diagnosis, a doctor would need to check on other symptoms such as changes inability to smell, fatigue, or vision problems in addition to assessing pain severity.
Plenty of tension-type headaches cause throbbing pain in the temples, especially migraines. However, there are times when temple headaches require more than just over-the-counter pain relievers. According to Harvard Health, temporal arteritis is caused by immune system antibodies attacking the large temporal arteries. The result is inflammation, a low-grade fever, weight loss as well as tenderness in the temple. In the worst case, arteries can become blocked, resulting in a stroke. Early diagnosis improves the chances of recovery.
A headache every-so-often can be annoying. But when it’s a chronic, daily occurrence, it can be draining and debilitating. Chronic headaches go on for more than 15 days out of the month for more than three months consecutively. These occurrences last for a couple of hours or, for serious episodes, days.
Some headaches have triggers that can be managed and avoided. However, there are some headaches that have no known cause. When symptoms, such as restlessness or changes in intensity along appetite or vision accompany the pain, it’s smart to see a doctor as soon as possible.
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