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Types of Headaches

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Headache is any type of pain or aching sensation occurring in any part of the head at any frequency. Depending on the type, severity and frequency of the pain, headaches are divided into categories and sub-categories. According to the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD), there are more than 150 types of headaches in total. 

Headaches can be divided into three major categories:

  1. Common Headaches
  2. Not-so-common Headaches
  3. Rare Headaches

They are further categorized and elaborated on below

1. Common Headaches:

Common headaches are the ones we mostly experience in our daily life in general. Migraine, stress and sinus issues cause the most common headaches in daily life.


Migraine is arguably the most common type of headache nowadays. It makes its presence known by a manageable or severe pain usually on one side of the head. With migraine, there is a throbbing pain that is accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound as well as watery eyes, a runny nose and seemingly clogged ears. The pain itself though is unmistakable and incomparable to any other type of headache. 

Tension-type headaches (TTH)

Tension-based headaches occur when neck and scalp muscles get contracted often as a result of daily stress, chronic depression, normal head injury, or anxiety. Age is hardly an issue as the headaches are seen in just about anyone but usually, adults and older teens suffer from TTH. It has a tendency to run in families which means one may inherit tension-induced headaches from their parents. Women tend to fall prey to this type more than men. 

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches usually entail excruciating pain in one specific portion of the head which is often around one eye. It is sometimes felt in a larger area including the eye, temple and face. The pain travels less and remains on the same side for each attack. The pain is usually so severe that the patient often reacts by pacing around the room, rocking in a chair or banging their heads against the wall.

Sinus Headaches

The air-filled spaces inside your forehead, nasal bridge and cheekbones make the sinus region of the head. Mostly due to infections, they get inflamed and produce mucus which in turn, clogs the sinus channels. It is called sinusitis and the added pressure on the tissue lining causes pain that emulates the symptoms of a headache.

2. Not-so-common Headaches

These headaches are less common compared to the first set of headaches explained above. The examples of not-so-common headaches are listed and elaborated on below -

Hemicrania Continua

“Hemicrania” means a type of pain that occurs on one side of the brain and “Continua” is Latin for continuous. So, Hemicrania Continua is a type of chronic and persistent headache that is continuous in nature while the severity of the pain fluctuates. It always stems from the same side of the head and there are often other debilitating symptoms that come with it like - flooded red eyes, clogged or runny nose. Often there would be migraine-like symptoms such as sensitivity to sound and light, nausea etc. as well with the Hemicrania Continua, and a very tiny percentage of the patients have reportedly experienced pain on both sides of their heads.

There are two types of Hemicrania Continua depending on the frequency of the headaches and they are:

Remitting Hemicrania Continua

The remitting form of Hemicrania Continua signifies the very rare cases when the headache gives the patient a break of over 24 hours and returns afterward.

Chronic Hemicrania Continua

The chronic type of Hemicrania Continua implies the same type of headache that occurs every day without fail. It is the most common kind of Hemicrania Continua. 

Workout Headaches

During heavy exercise, the muscles near the head, neck and scalp are more active than normal which means a larger amount of blood is drawn to the vessels near these areas. The fuller vessels are dilated which can cause exertional headaches starting from 20 minutes and lasting up to forty-eight hours. It is usually referred to as exercise or workout headaches. It does not have to be a workout in particular but any activity heavier than normal can spur these headaches and they attack just after the activity is finished. 

Hormone Headaches

There is a direct connection found between the female hormone estrogen and headaches mostly, migraines. Estrogen controls the brain chemical that controls the sensation of pain and hence, a drop in the estrogen level directly results in severe migraines. Fluctuations in the hormone levels in women result in various types of headaches. Periods, pregnancy and menopause are known to induce headaches of various severity. Hormone headaches are also labeled Menstrual Migraines since they often occur a few days before periods and continue up until the second or third day of the period. 

Rebound Headaches

Rebound Headaches are usually caused by the constant usage of pain killer medications to tackle migraines on a regular basis. That’s why this type is also known as Medication Overuse Headache. These are usually dull yet persistent type headaches that occur nearly every day. As soon as the effects of the pain medication wear off, the headache returns and that the patient’s natural instinct is to go for more medication. The persistent headache stays for two to ten days depending on the situation. 

New Daily Persistent Headaches (NDPH)

New Daily Persistent Headache is a basic headache that ends up mimicking symptoms of regular migraine in some cases but in general, it remains a constant pain in the temporal region of the head without any special symptoms or characteristics. It usually manifests itself suddenly in patients who lack any prior history of headaches. The timid and persistent nature of this type along with its untraceable link to the patient’s medical history often makes it one of the hardest headaches to treat. In turn, the constant pain becomes highly unmanageable and numbing which more often than not weakens the patient to the point where s/he fails to carry on with their routine life. 

3. Rare Headaches

Rare headaches are those that are not seen in many people or don’t manifest very frequently. This rare kind too can be classified into a few types depending on their symptoms and source -

Posttraumatic Headaches (PTH)

PTH usually stems from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). After meeting an accident that hits the head, the patient experiences chronic pain and a persistent headache. Chronic posttraumatic headaches are among a type of secondary headache that results from a head injury. This kind usually manifests approximately within seven days of hurting one’s head. 

Spinal Headaches

Spinal headaches often start after some medical procedure is performed that involves drawing fluid from the spine for testing or injecting anesthesia into it. Roughly after five days of such a procedure, this type starts happening. A dull or throbbing pain that worsens while standing or sitting up along with blurred vision, dizziness, nausea, a  stiff neck and compromised hearing are the prime symptoms of spinal headache. 

Ice Pick Headaches

Ice Pick Headache is also known as Stabbing Headache since it feels like a clean strike in the head with an ice pick. These are sudden extremely intense headaches lasting for mere seconds.

There are two kinds of Ice Pick Headaches and they are -

Primary Ice Pick Headaches: The short intense headaches lasting only a few seconds that are themselves the issue would usually be classified as the Primary Ice Pick Headaches.

Secondary Ice Pick Headaches: Ice Pick Headaches become secondary when some other medical condition gives birth to these headaches. 

Thunderclap Headaches

Thunderclap Headaches feel like a clap of thunder sudden as they sound. It reaches its peak within 1 minute of start and lasts for a minimum of 5 minutes in general. These kinds of headaches are usually harmless and simple passing unease but at times, they can indicate more serious illnesses involving internal bleeding of the brain that are yet to make their presence known.



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