Understanding the Different Types of Headaches

Understanding the Different Types of Headaches

Headaches are maladies that virtually everyone has experienced at some point in their lives. Tension, cluster, and migraine headaches are the three most common types. Stress, exhaustion, a lack of sleep, hunger, and caffeine withdrawal are just a few triggers.

Internal medicine physician and primary care specialist Samuel I. Fink, MD, routinely treats patients with headaches. Knowing the type of headache you have can lead to the right headache treatment and much needed relief.

While there are over 100 types, tension headaches are by far the most prevalent, accounting for about 90% of headaches. Here, we examine the three most common types of headaches in detail. 

Tension headaches

The most common type of headache is tension headache. Stress and muscle tension, as well as genes and environment, are thought to play a role. Typical symptoms are moderate pain on or around both sides of the head, as well as pain in the back of the head and neck.

Tension headaches develop gradually and are rarely accompanied by nausea or vomiting. They can be chronic, recurring frequently or even daily.

If a tension headache occurs only sometimes, it can be managed with over-the-counter pain medicines, but if it’s a persistent issue, you may require prescription medication. A tricyclic antidepressant or muscle relaxant, as well as good sleep hygiene, regular exercise, or relaxing therapies like massage or yoga, may help reduce the intensity and frequency of tension headaches. 

Migraine headaches 

Migraines cause a throbbing or pounding sensation and range in severity from mild to severe. They’re usually one-sided. Unlike other types of headaches, migraines cause additional symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity. Migraine symptoms tend to get worse with physical activity.

Migraines can also cause pain in your face or neck, which can be mistaken for a sinus headache or muscular spasm. Sinus-like symptoms including watering eyes, nasal congestion, and facial pressure can cause you to believe you have a sinus headache when you have a migraine.

Migraines can occur with or without aura, a brief neurological phenomenon that slowly builds and then often dissipates just as the pain begins. Visual disturbances (flashing lights, zigzags, and blind spots) are the most common type of migraine aura. Many people also experience numbness, disorientation, difficulty speaking, vertigo (spinning dizziness), and other neurological symptoms. Some people experience auras without head pain.

Cluster headaches 

Cluster headaches are characterized by severe pain that appears suddenly behind one eye. They’re the most severe form of headache, yet they affect fewer people than tension and migraine headaches.

As the name suggests, these types of headaches tend to occur in clusters, and they can occur daily or numerous times a day. Alcohol or tobacco use, bright light, heat, and meals containing nitrates, such as lunch meat or bacon, can all cause cluster headaches. 

Is it time to consult a physician?

If you're experiencing persistent or severe headaches that are interfering with your normal daily activities, speak with a health care professional. Most headaches are treatable with a combination of individualized acute and preventive medication therapy and lifestyle changes. 

If you’re struggling with headaches, we’re standing by to help you get some relief. Reach out to the team that offers the best internal medicine in Tarzana, California. Call our office to schedule a visit or request an appointment online with Dr. Fink today.

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