According to the World Health Organization (WHO), headaches are one of the most common disorders of the nervous system, with an estimated 47 percent of the population suffering from at least one headache within the past year.
There are a variety of different types of headaches, with the most commonly recognized types being migraines, tension-type headaches, and cluster headaches. Headache disorders are a worldwide health concern, affecting individuals of all ages, races, socioeconomic statuses, and all geographical areas.
Not only do headaches cause pain, they can also have a negative effect on a person’s quality of life. They can impact personal and professional relationships as well as potentially contributing to other illnesses. So, in the pursuit of pain relief, it is important for individuals that suffer from headaches to determine the cause of their pain so that they can be addressed appropriately and headaches don’t come to destroy someone’s life.
The basics of headaches
If you suffer from headaches, determining the type of headache you are experiencing is the first step to properly managing it. The three most commonly recognized headache types are:
1. Migraine headaches
Migraine headaches are a primary headache disorder and commonly begin during puberty. They are usually recurrent and last a lifetime. Characteristics of migraine headaches include moderate to severe head pain, nausea, and a pulsing type of head pain that is often one-sided. The frequency with which someone might experience a migraine headache differs from person to person; however, a migraine headache is typically made worse with physical activity and can last from hours to days.
2. Tension headaches
Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache that people suffer from, often beginning during adolescent years and affecting women more than men. Tension-type headaches can be caused by stress or by muscle irregularities in the neck. People who suffer from these types of headaches often complain of a pressure or tightness around their head.
3. Cluster headaches
Cluster headaches are relatively uncommon, affecting more men than women. Cluster headaches usually begin in people over the age of 20, and are characterized by severe head pain. Often, this head pain is accompanied by pain around the eye, with tearing and redness.
Headache Location Chart: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Treatment
|Type of Headache
|Symptoms and location
|– mimic migraines or cluster headaches
– double vision
– rigid neck
– unbearable headache
can occur anywhere in the head as a result of a bulging blood vessel
|– congenital tendency
– extreme hypertension
|– if caught early surgical intervention can take place
|– reduce blood pressure
|– generalized headache
– nasal congestion
– watery eyes
|– seasonal allergens such as molds and pollens
|– antihistamine medication
– nasal sprays
– desensitization injections
|– pain at the back of the head or neck that worsens with movement
|– cause of pain is unknown
|– anti-inflammatory drugs
– muscle relaxants
|Chronic Daily Headaches
|– headaches that occur more than 15 days per month
|– may evolve from migraine or episodic tension-type headache
|– variety of treatment options exist though analgesic use should be limited
|– varies based upon cause of headache and duration
|– pain in the vicinity of the eye
– flushing of the face
– pain may develop during sleep and occur every day for a period of weeks or months
|– alcoholic beverages
– excessive smoking
– intranasal local anesthetic
|– use of steroids
– calcium channel blockers
|– frontal, bilateral pain
|– muscle imbalance
|– correction of vision
|– correction of vision
|generalized pain of short duration following physical exertion
|– organic diseases
– migraine or cluster headaches
|– alternative forms of exercise
– avoiding jarring exercises
|– pain in the head prior to eating
|– skipping meals or extreme dieting that causes blood sugar to drop
|– consuming regular meals
– consuming enough protein and carbohydrates
|– eating regular balanced meals
|Giant Cell Arteritis
|– boring, burning or jabbing pain due to inflammation of temporal arteries
– pain around the ear when chewing
– weight loss
– eye problems
|– cause unknown
|– steroids after diagnosis
|– generalized pain most severe in the morning
|– severe hypertension
|– blood pressure medication
|– better management of blood pressure
|Migraine with Aura
|– warning signs including visual disturbances, numbness in arms or legs
|– hereditary components
– certain foods
– emotional stress
– ice pack
– medications that constrict blood vessels
– calcium blockers
|Migraine without Aura
|– severe, one-sided, throbbing pain
– cold hands
– sensitivity to light and sound
|– same as Migraine with Aura
|– same as Migraine with Aura
|– same as Migraine with Aura
|– gnawing pain over nasal area
– blockage of sinus ducts
– nasal polyps
– deviated septum
– surgical drainage
|Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) Headaches
|– a pain or clicking experienced in the jaw
– muscle-contracting pain
|– poor bite
– jaw clenching
– using a sleep guard or a bite plate
– surgery in extreme cases
|– same as treatment
|– dull, non-throbbing pain
bilateral pain associated with tightness of scalp and neck
|– emotional stress
– ice packs
– muscle relaxant
|– avoidance of stress
– relaxation techniques
– antidepressant medication
Types of Headaches Based on Location
Headaches come in all shapes and forms, with frontal headaches or headaches across the forehead being some of the most common. It may be isolated to one spot or spread across the entirety of the forehead. It can also spread down to the entire face, causing complete debilitation until the headache has resolved.
Frontal headaches can be associated with another type of headache referred to as a temporal headache, which affects the sides of the skull. While this is usually short-lived, it can recur several times. Frontal headaches could persist for days or weeks, but this is not very common.
Headache on Top of Head
A headache on top of the head is called vertex pain, and if you have ever experienced it, you know that it can be a strange feeling. In some cases, it can seem as if a weight is sitting on top of your skull.
A headache on top of the head is rather unique, since there are only a couple of muscles that actually refer to pain on the top of the head. Certain neck and upper back muscles can tense or become injured, causing pain, but there are other potential causes for a throbbing headache on top of the head.
Pain in Back of Head
Pain located in the back of your head could be due to a variety of different reasons, some more serious than others.
Worse than your average headache, migraines can be severe and debilitating for those who are unfortunate enough to suffer from them and can cause nausea and vision disturbances. Migraines are characterized by throbbing and shooting head pain in the back of the head.
If you are experiencing pain on the right side of the back of your head, it may be due to a tension headache. These headaches are characterized by a dull pain that feels like pressure around the back and side of your head.
Headache on One Side of Head
A headache experienced on only one side of the head is commonly referred to as a one-sided or unilateral headache. They can be quite painful, often making our heads feel like they are throbbing and possibly leading to additional symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and a visual sensitivity to light.
5 surprising causes of headaches and neck pain
While some people can pinpoint the exact cause of their headaches, many are left wondering what is triggering their head pain. This is because, while some causes of head pain seem pretty obvious—persistent loud noise or muscle tension—many causes of head pain aren’t as commonly recognized as potential triggers of pain. Take a look at these five “less obvious” causes of headaches that you may not have considered.
Chewing gum: Constantly chewing gum places stress on your jaw and the surrounding muscles which can trigger head pain. To add insult to injury, many of the artificial sweeteners that are found in chewing gum these days can trigger headaches in some people. If you chew gum frequently and suffer from mysterious headaches, you may want to consider opting for a candy that you can suck on as opposed to chewing, and to pay attention to any links or patterns between particular sweeteners you ingest and when you develop your headaches.
3D movies and tv: While this technology is new, innovative, and enjoyable for many, it can actually trigger headaches in many people. If you find that your headaches seem to occur around when you use these forms of entertainment, you may have to stick to regular type film instead.
Weather changes: Changes in weather systems can trigger migraine headaches in some people. Hot, humid days can trigger head pain for some people while others are affected by changes in barometric pressure. While you have no control over the weather, you can minimize your risk of suffering from a headache by ensuring that you stay hydrated throughout the day, and by keeping yourself in a cooler climate—especially on hot and muggy days.
Strong scents: Being surrounded by strong scents in your environment can trigger head pain. Common culprits for head pain are perfume, paint, and flowers. Try eliminating these strong scents from your environment if possible. If you are in a situation where it can’t be avoided, open nearby windows and go for frequent breathes of outdoor air.
Poor posture: You are probably mostly unaware of your habitual standing and sitting posture, but these are likely culprits of head pain. Slouching, hunching over, and sitting in a chair with little to no back support can place stress on the muscles in your neck, which can trigger head pain. If you suffer from frequent tension-type headaches, you may want to consider taking a close look at the various postures that you are in throughout the day and take measures to strengthen your body and adjust them accordingly.
If you suffer from headaches frequently and can’t figure out why, the best thing that you can do is to keep a headache journal. Keep a daily diary of your diet, exercise, weather patterns, and stress levels, and then record each time you get a headache. Be sure to include the time, location, severity, duration, and treatment. After a while, you’ll hopefully start to notice some distinct patterns in your headaches, helping you make the right lifestyle changes that will get you onto the road of relief and recovery.