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Overview of Headaches

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.



Headaches are associated with numerous illnesses, and they can affect the quality of your life. Headaches are very common worldwide, and the pain may be constant, throbbing, sharp or dull. It is estimated that 75% of the world population has had a headache in the past year. There are over 150 types of headaches, and they are a major cause of absenteeism from work and school.

Headache Classifications

In 2013, the International Headache Society classified headaches into three categories that are based on the source of the pain, and they include:

  1. Primary headaches - tension, migraine or cluster
  2. Secondary headaches - symptom of an injury or underlying disease
  3. Cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type and occur more often in women. The World Health Organization states 1 in 20 people have daily tension headaches in the developed world.

Migraines are the second most common headache, and after puberty they occur more frequently in women.

Cluster headaches are rare, and they are more common in men who are in their late twenties.

Migraine Headache

Migraine Headache

Secondary Headaches

There are numerous types of secondary headaches, which may be caused by facial structural problems with bones in the face or in the teeth.

A dozen causes of secondary headaches include:

  1. A sinus infection requires a doctor visit and antibiotics correct this problem
  2. Arthritis headaches may cause pain at the back of the head or neck, caused by inflammation of the blood vessels in the head or changes in the bones, which is usually treated by anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants
  3. A caffeine withdrawal headache is caused by a rebound dilation of blood vessels, and it may occur several days after drinking a large amount of coffee. Drink much less coffee to prevent this headache
  4. Substance abuse or withdrawal, and if it is a serious withdrawal you should get some help from a medical center
  5. An allergy headache can be treated by topical or a nasal cortisone type of spray or a desensitization injections
  6. An eye strain headache may occur after too many hours in front of the computer, and it can be treated with over the counter medications (OTC)
  7. A fasting headache may occur, and it usually resolves within 72 hours.
  8. A headache caused by a fever is due to the blood vessels swelling in the brain and can be treated with acetaminophen, aspirin, and antibiotics
  9. Overuse of medications, which is something to discuss with your physician.
  10. A tension headache dull, non-throbbing pain typically caused by emotional stress or hidden depression
  11. A menstrual headache can occur anytime during the menstrual cycle due to the variance of estrogen
  12. A hypertension headache can occur when the systolic blood pressure is over 200 and the diastolic is over 110, and it should be treated with medication

How To Get Rid Of Headaches

Primary Headache Causes

While headaches are not hereditary, they do tend to run in families. They can also be triggered by different environmental factors, including:

  • Particular foods, such as caffeine, fermented foods, alcohol, chocolate, cheese and processed meat containing nitrates
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Allergen exposure
  • Strong odors, such as perfume or household chemicals
  • Alcohol, especially red wine
  • Changes in or lack of sleep
  • Skipped meals
  • Poor posture
  • Stress

Cranial Neuralgias

Cranial neuralgias ( facial pain) is in the third group of headaches. A cranial neuralgia is the inflammation of a cranial nerve, and there are 12 nerves. The most common type of this headache is trigeminal neuralgia.

Headache Treatments

Treatments include some of the things listed above, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. In addition to the well-known treatments there are other possible treatments for headaches, including:

  • Biofeedback
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)

Tension Headaches

This most common headache may feel like a dull pain, but not a throbbing pain. Tension headaches tend to be on both sides of the head with mild to moderate pain. The pain is more intense when you are doing your daily activities. This headache usually responds to over-the-counter medications.

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Tension headaches are divided into two main categories — episodic and chronic.

Episodic Tension Headaches

Episodic tension headaches can last from 30 minutes to a week. Frequent episodic tension headaches occur less than 15 days a month for at least three months. Frequent episodic tension headaches may become chronic.

Chronic Tension Headaches

This type of tension headache lasts hours and may be continuous. If your headaches occur 15 or more days a month for at least three months, they're considered chronic.

Migraines 101: Symptoms

Migraine Headaches

The second most common headache tends to have moderate to severe pounding or throbbing pain on one side of the head. Some people get an upset stomach, and they are sensitive to noise and light. This pain lasts 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Researchers do not know what causes migraine headaches, but they think unstable nerve cells overreact to various triggers. They believe nerve cells send impulses to the blood vessels causing a chemical change in the brain. There are several prescriptions to treat this type of headache.

Cluster Headaches

This headache causes the pain to be excruciating. The headaches tend to come in a cluster or group. The pain is found behind your eyes or in the eye region. They occur from 1 to 8 times daily, most often in the spring or in autumn. Cluster headaches tend to last for 2 weeks, or they may last for 3 months. They can disappear for months or years, yet return at some point.

Eighty percent of these headaches attack men between the ages of 20 to 50. Excessive smoking and alcohol can trigger these headaches. Oxygen, ergotamine, sumatriptan or an intranasal application a local anesthetic agent may be used for treatments.

Cluster Headaches, Signs and Symptoms, Treatment

When To See A Physician

If you or your child has the following symptoms, contact your physician.

  • Three or more headaches per week
  • No relief from a headache, or it keeps getting worse
  • Taking a pain reliever almost daily
  • Your headaches are triggered by exertion, coughing, bending or strenuous activity
  • Needing more than 2-3 OTC doses each week for pain
  • You have a history of headaches but a recent change in your symptoms

A headache with these symptoms require emergency care, and they include:

  • Trouble seeing
  • Trouble hearing
  • Trouble walking
  • A stiff neck.

Preventing Headaches

There are a few ways to prevent headaches, including getting enough rest and trying to minimize any stressful situations. Try rubbing or massaging your temples or your neck muscles, and a warm compress may help.

Other preventative remedies include:

  • Not skipping meals
  • Reduce your caffeine intake
  • Drink enough water (dehydration causes tension and migraine headaches)
  • Take magnesium
  • Limit alcohol
  • Avoid foods high in histamines, such as aged cheeses, fermented food and wine
  • Use essential oils, such as peppermint or lavender
  • Try taking a B complex vitamin

Self-Massage for Tension Headaches

In Conclusion

There are numerous types of headaches. If you can figure out what triggers your headaches, you may be able to avoid most of them. It may help to keep a headache diary to learn what triggers your pain. Headache treatments depend on the type of headache.

Headaches Questionaire


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Pamela Oglesby


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 13, 2021:

Hi Brenda,

I think we have to be careful with over-the-counter drugs also. Too much of anything isn't good. Do you think your headaches are due to stress?

It is awful to have headaches all the time. I hope they stop for you. Thank you for your comments. Take care.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 12, 2021:


This a very good article.

You did your homework.

I have what I call head pain most every day, but that goes with the territory.

At one time I was even getting what they call rebound headaches because I was taking too much tylenol.

Who knew? I thought tylenol was safe.

But apparently you are only supposed to take it a certain number of I take an occasional baby aspirin now.

Thanks for the share.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 12, 2021:

Hi Denise,

At least you knew what to do about your headache. My husband quit drinking coffee, but I still drink it. I don't have headaches though.

I appreciate your comments. Stay safe and healthy!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 12, 2021:

I had a lot of caffeine headaches until I cut out the caffeine from my diet. I feel much better. Also, I drink more water and that helps a lot. Thanks for all this information.



Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 12, 2021:

Hi Flourish,

I didn't realize there as such a vast nmber of headaches until I did the research. I use to have migraines but not any more. I hope you are well, and I appreciate your comments.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 12, 2021:

Oh, migraines! They are really tough. This is a good article differentiating the types of headaches.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 11, 2021:

Hi Osman,

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Osman Ghazi on January 11, 2021:

Thanks pamela for giving us such precious informations

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 11, 2021:

Hi MG,

Yoga is a very healthy thing to do. It is good that you do not have headaches. I always appreciate your nice comments.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on January 11, 2021:

Pamela another fine article by you. I thank God so far no headaches for me but that may be because I do a lot of yoga also.I must complement your knowledge on the subject.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on January 11, 2021:

Hi Alyssa,

I'm sorry to hear you've been having headaches. You might want to keep a headache journal to try and figure out the trigger for your headaches. I'm glad this article might be useful for you.

I think the weather is a possibility, but it coud be other things. I appreciate your comments. Take care.

Alyssa from Ohio on January 11, 2021:

This couldn't come at a more perfect time, Pamela! I've been having issues with headaches lately and it's incredibly frustrating and debilitating. I chalked mine up to a combination of the weather (my excuse for pretty much everything haha!) low blood sugar, and lack of sleep. I enjoyed learning more about the different types of headaches and what causes them. This was so informative! Thank you!