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Types of Headaches

37 million people worldwide are affected by migraine or another severe headache disorder. Although migraine may be the most well-known type of headache disorder, clinicians have identified more than 150 diagnostic categories for headaches resulting from a wide range causes. Initially, headaches are classified as either primary headache disorders or secondary headache disorders, depending on the cause of the headache. 

We sat down with Attending Neurologist and Headache Specialist at DENT, Dr. Shivang Joshi, who explained a few of the many types of headache disorders.  

Types of Headaches

Primary headaches occur independently and are not caused by an underlying medical condition.

Types of primary headaches include:

  • Migraine
  • Cluster
  • Tension-Type

Secondary headaches result from another medical condition such as hormone imbalances, injury or tumor.

Secondary headaches can be caused by underlying conditions including, but not limited to:

  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Medication overuse
  • Stress or emotional conflict
  • High blood pressure
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Head injury or trauma
  • Stroke
  • Tumors
  • Nerve disorders

Migraine vs. Headache

Migraine is a type of headache disorder with specific symptoms, like throbbing pain, which can be moderate to severe in intensity and is typically located on one side of the head. According to the American Migraine Foundation, clinically, migraine is defined as “if within an individual’s lifetime there have occurred 5 or more attacks of unprovoked headache lasting 4-72 hours, severe enough to markedly restrict or even prohibit routine daily activity and accompanied by nausea or light/ sound sensitivity.”

“Most persons with migraines prefer to lie down and not move. Sometimes, migraine can also be associated with visual symptoms such as squiggly lines, flashes of lights with different colors this phenomenon is commonly referred to as migraine aura,” said Joshi.

Although migraine is the most common headache disorder, you can still be treated for headaches even you do not have migraine!

“You may have tension type headaches or another type of headaches. Treatment of headaches usually involves, identifying triggers, dietary or lifestyle medications, medications for prevention of headache as well as medications that are taken at the onset of headache,” said Joshi.

When Should I Consult a Doctor about My Headaches?

According to the Mayo Clinic, you should see a doctor if you experience headaches that:

  • Occur more often than usual
  • Are more severe than usual
  • Worsen or don’t improve with appropriate use of over-the-counter drugs
  • Keep you from working, sleeping or participating in normal activities
  • Cause you distress, and you would like to find treatment options that enable you to control them better

“Generally, when there is a change in quality, character or frequency of your headache you may want to seek medical evaluation,” said Dr. Joshi.

“Other factors include new onset headaches after the age 40, or headaches associated with neurological symptoms or other systemic illness.”

The content of this post is intended for general educational and informational purposes only; it does not constitute medical advice.  Readers should always consult with a licensed healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment.