Types of Headaches

August 18, 2015

shutterstock_271701236Behind the eyes, down in the neck, up on top of the head, in the ears…a headache can take root in so many places, and they come in so many varieties. Some throb, others stab. Some are just low, dull aches. Particularly bad ones—like migraines—can leave us flat on our backs or vomiting.

Headaches are generally categorized as either “primary” or “secondary.” Primary headaches are not caused by a disease or any known structural abnormality, nor are they considered life-threatening. They are simply there, and they often come and go. Migraines belong to this category. Secondary headaches are “secondary” to something else, meaning they have a known cause, like injury, infection, or tumors. These types of headaches can be life-threatening, but are not necessarily so.

Within these two general categories, there are many types and sub-types of headaches that have been identified. Since over 90% of headaches belong to the Primary category, let’s look at some of the most common types of these, how they are caused, and what you can do about them – if anything.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are by far the most common type of headache. Probably the only person who has not experienced one of these is the headless horseman. They are brought on by muscle contraction in the face or neck, usually due to stress. They often feel like something is pressing down on you and the pain is usually mild to moderate. Over-the-counter medication usually helps.


 Cluster headaches can be nasty. They typically occur on one side of the head and are characterized by acute pain, usually lasting at least 15 minutes and up to 3 hours. They are called “cluster headaches” because they come in groups – an affected person may have several over a period of weeks before they go away…for awhile. No one is sure what the precise cause is, but about 65% of people who have them are current or ex-smokers. Medication and oxygen therapy can help diminish the pain, but no cure is known.


 Migraines, while not being the most common, receive probably the most attention. In many cases, these are severely debilitating and can lead to vomiting, nausea, and difficulty seeing. They are often unilateral, meaning they occur on only one side of the head, though sometimes they start on one side of the head and travel to the other. They affect more women than men, and debate rages as to the exact cause. Several subcategories of migraines exist, including a type that is so rare but so painful it sounds like it was named after a dinosaur (it wasn’t): Status Migrainosus. This kind of migraine lasts at least 72 hours and often results in hospitalization.

The best thing you can do for a migraine is rest. Because migraines are often precipitated by stimuli such as strong smells or bright lights, most migraine sufferers tend to lay in bed in a dark and stimulus-free room. Some people have reported some relief by gently massaging the head during a migraine, or putting a wet cloth on their heads. If these methods work for you, great! But what prevents a migraine from returning? A bevy of drugs have been developed, but so far many of them have not proven lasting success. Surgical methods have also been tried and have seen success.

Migraine Treatment Centers of America (MTCA) exclusively offers the Omega Procedure, which is a combination of supraorbital stimulation and occipital nerve stimulation that is achieved by a minimally invasive implant of small wires that block migraine pain from entering the pain receptors in the brain. Call us today at 855.300.6822 to discuss options with your patient coordinator.


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