07 Aug 2017
Recognizing The Nature Of Your Headache


Subject: Recognizing The Nature Of Your Headache


Experiencing headaches lately?

The effectiveness of headache medications primarily depends on the prompt and accurate recognition of the type of headache being experienced.

To begin with, occurrences of headaches originate from two different reasons.

Headaches which are not caused by an underlying serious medical condition are classified as Primary Headaches. Factors such as muscle tension, stress or exposure to a certain food can be a source.

Secondary headaches occur because of a structural damage caused by an infection, head injury, a blood disorder, bleeding in the brain or tumors.

Primary Headaches

1- Tension headaches

Often called stress headaches, they are the most common type of a primary headache for adults. These types of headaches are caused by stress, not enough rest, depression, anxiety, hunger, low blood iron levels, musculo-skeletal problems (bad posture) and eye strain.

Tension headaches are further categorized as:

Episodic Tension Type Headaches - occur fewer than 15 days per month lasting for few to 30 minutes and affecting more than 70% of some populations.

Chronic Tension Type Headaches - occur more than 15 days per month and affects 1-3% of adults. Chronic TTH can be continuous and is much more disabling than episodic TTH because of its nature.

How it feels like

These headaches are described as pressure or tightness like a band around the head, sometimes spreading into or from the neck. Usually, these types of headaches don’t disrupt patients from daily activities because they don’t affect vision, balance, and strength.

How are they treated?

Over-the-counter pain relievers like paracetamol, ibuprofen, and naproxen are advisable. De-stressing through deep breathing exercises, gentle yoga and napping can also help in reducing incidences.


A migraine headache tends to run in the family and is more common to women than men. It is often lifelong and recurrent. Migraine attacks are initiated and exaggerated by stress, exhaustion, bright lights and noise.

How it feels like

Pain is of moderate or severe intensity, one-sided, pulsating and pounding in quality and is worsened by routine physical activity lasting from several hours to two to three days. Attacks are usually associated with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. 25 to 30% of migraine sufferers experience “aura” or a visual disturbance felt prior to the onset of an attack. These could be blind spots, sparkles, stars, flashing lights and zigzag lines that seem to appear in their visual field.

How are they treated?

“Triptans” are drugs that are used to effectively reduce pain from migraine attacks.  Other pain relievers are also reported to bring relief such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen. 

3-Cluster Headache

This type of headache appears in group or cycles typically occurring at the same time of the day, hence are also called as “alarm clock headaches”.

These are the least common type of headaches, but are reported to be the most painful affecting less than 1 in 1,000 people. Attacks often occur during summer or autumn thus often mistakenly associated with sinusitis or allergies.

How it feels like

The quality of pain is described as excruciating, burning and piercing. It can also spread to the forehead, temple, nose cheek or upper gum on the same area of the affected eye. The pain lasts up to 15 minutes and could be as long as 3 hours.

Because of the intensity of pain, a person during an attack may walk back and forth, or may knock their head against a hard surface in an attempt to relieve the pain.

These symptoms may completely disappear for months or years, only to return at a later date which may or may not shift on the opposite side.

How are they treated?

During severe attacks, Sumatriptan (Imitrex) can be given. Oxygen treatment through a facemask for 20 minutes has been described to have astounding effects as well.


4- Medication-overuse headache

People who excessively use medicines as treatment for migraine and other types of headaches over a long period of time are prone to develop this type of headache.

How it feels like

It is felt as dull constant headache often worse in the morning.

How are they treated?

Discontinuation of the overused medicine is the only way to stop this headache from occurring. Some people do it in a gradual manner while others need to seek medical supervision for detoxification.


5- Caffeine-Withdrawal Headaches

These headaches are experienced by people who abruptly eliminate caffeine in their system after continually consuming too much of it.

Caffeine, most commonly found in coffee, tea and chocolates can also be found in some popular over the counter pain relievers as it is known to boost the effectiveness of the pain relief by 40%.

How it feels like

A throbbing headache that occurs after a person abruptly stops taking caffeine after consuming large amounts multiple times. 

How are they treated?

Avoid large amounts of caffeine intake. Maintain a normal level of caffeine by checking the caffeine content of food products and medicines. A healthy adult can consume up to 400mg of caffeine a day.


6- Hangover Headaches

These types of headaches are associated with too much alcohol consumption. Ethanol and Congener are chemical substances found in alcoholic beverages that cause dehydration and induce hangover headaches.

Also, people experiencing migraine and cluster headaches report more pain during alcohol consumption.

How it feels like

Throbbing pain and nausea, almost migraine like but are not confined to one area of the head.

How are they treated?

Drink alcohol in moderation. Counteract the effects of dehydration by drinking more fluids including broths, ginger tea, and consumption of fructose in honey or tomato juice.


7- Menstrual Headaches

Change in women’s level of hormones (estrogen) during menstruation period causes these headaches.

How it feels like

Migraine-like symptoms (pulsating and pounding which may or may not be accompanied by nausea and vomiting) that happen before, during or immediately after the menstruation period or at mid cycle (ovulation).

How are they treated?

Taking ibuprofen or mefenamic acid help stop the pain. Biofeedback therapy which includes relaxation techniques and meditation are helpful as a preventive method.



8- Sinus Headaches

When your sinuses get inflamed because of an infection or allergic reaction, they swell and produce more mucus blocking the passageways building up pressure on the facial area causing this type of a headache.

How it feels like

Deep, constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead, or at the bridge of the nose is felt. The pain tends to get stronger when the head is moved suddenly or during training activities.  At the same time, other sinus symptoms are also present in a runny nose and sneezing.

How are they treated?

Antibiotics, antihistamines, and decongestants might be prescribed to end the inflammation in the sinuses. Inhaled nasal decongestants can also be of use but not more than 3 days since prolonged use can make the symptoms worse.


9- Aneurysm Headache

Swelling of a certain blood vessel in the brain can cause this headache. If not managed promptly, rupture of the blood vessel takes place and more serious complications occur. This is considered a medical emergency. Known risk factors include extremely high blood pressure and smoking.

How it feels like

The swelling of the blood vessel in the brain will produce a migraine like symptoms, but rupture will cause blood leaking in the brain producing lethal effects such as the suddenlyunbearable type of headache, inability to move your neck, double vision, and unconsciousness.

How are they treated?

Aneurysm, when discovered early, will be treated with surgery. Prevention includes maintaining a normal blood pressure and smoking cessation.


10- Tumor Headache

A brain tumor is an abnormal growth of mass in the brain. A common initial symptom of this condition is headaches experienced by 50 % of brain tumor patients.

How it feels like

Persistent pain in the head becoming more painful accompanied with brain tumor symptoms like vomiting, visual disturbances, changes with speech, personality problems and difficulty maintaining balance. The pain for this headache will become severe during coughing, the exertion of force, exercise or even a change in the body position.

These types of headaches typically do not respond to the usual headache medicines.

How are they treated?

If discovered early, surgery is the best option to remove the tumor.




  1. www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs277/en
  2. www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches
  3. www.migrainetrust.org
  4. www.medicinenet.com
  5. www.health.com/healthgallery