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General health

What are the Different Types of Headaches, and How are They Treated?

 Wed Jan 10 2024

Reading time : 6 mins

Ever wondered what makes your head feel like it's throbbing or just generally sore?

Everyone knows what a headache feels like. Affecting 7 out of 10 people annually, it's a significant reason for absences from work and school. It is an annoying pain that can last from few hours to days or weeks. Frequent and repeated attacks of headache are a matter of huge concern. This can be caused by primary headache disorders, namely migraine, tension-type headache or it can occur secondary to other underlying conditions such as medication overuse, brain tumour, brain infection, etc. However, only some people know the difference. We sympathise with you and understand your pain if you ever experienced this.

If you are one of them, this blog is for you. So, let’s dive into it.

Common Types of Headaches

There are so many different types of headaches.

  • Primary headaches  occur independently and are not caused by another medical condition. The commonest one being migraine. The other primary headache types include Tension headache, cluster headache.

  • The secondary headaches occur due to an underlying disease condition such as brain tumour, stroke, hypertension, brain infections, seizures, trigeminal neuralgia, etc which require immediate medical attention.

Primary headache disorders


Migraines can take over your ability to live a whole and functional life. You can’t do anything but forcefully lay in your bedroom in the dark with ice packs on your neck and forehead, trying your absolute hardest not to cry. Horrible, right? Imagine waking up every single day to battle that horrifying, painful feeling - what would you do?

Many people have no idea that migraine is a complex neurological disorder that causes full-body symptoms. They are characterized by recurrent attacks of moderate to severe throbbing and pulsating pain on one side of the head associated with nausea and/or vomiting. It is a repetitive acute condition but a chronic illness. These repeated attacks are triggered by several factors. Some of them include:

  • Over-exertion

  • Low blood sugar levels

  • Loud or sudden noises or bright lights

  • Stress

  • Emotional disturbances

  • Hangover

  • Irregular/skipping meals

  • Hormonal fluctuations e.g.: before/after menses

  • Changing weather: rising humidity and heat


Migraine headaches can happen in children too and are often misdiagnosed. You should always consult a physician before giving headache medicines to a child.

Migraine treatment is aimed at pain relief and preventing future attacks. Non-drug therapy includes lifestyle changes to avoid triggers, relaxation training and help individuals cope up with pain. Taking headache relief drugs more than three times a week may lead to medication overuse headache. Hence it is vital to seek medical attention to treat migraines effectively.

Tension-type Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. As the name suggests they occur because of fatigue, stress, mental or emotional conflict. This is felt as a pressure or tightness of a band around the head and neck. Tension headaches often begin in the neck from chronically tight muscles or associated musculoskeletal problems.

Relax those shoulders, do a few neck circles, and relax your jaw. Consciously unclenching your muscles throughout the day is essential. You can apply magnesium gel to incredibly tight, sore areas and give yourself a mini massage. It helps to relax tight muscles, calm an anxious mind, help you sleep better, and boost your mood. Yoga is particularly helpful as it relaxes both body and mind. Many patients do better with simple lifestyle management and analgesics.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are no joke. Have you ever had a migraine? Multiply that by 20—this is a cluster headache. Cluster headaches are the most excruciating type of pain that occurs sudden, abruptly and peaks in 10 minutes after the onset, usually at the same time of the day and night for several weeks. You may have red eyes, tears coming out of the eye, droopy eyelids, one-sided headache, or a runny nose on the same side. You may be agitated, restless and experience changes in your heart rate and blood pressure.

Cluster headaches are relatively uncommon, affecting predominantly men than women. They are also less frequent as compared to migraine attacks. These attacks can be provoked by smoking and alcohol. There is an established link of cluster headaches with previous head trauma and familial history.

The treatment strategy for cluster headache is management of acute attack followed by preventative treatment. 100% Oxygen therapy is the most well-known treatment, and it is effective in less than 10 minutes. Verapamil is the most widely prescribed preventative drug.

Other forms of primary headaches include:

  • Ice-pick headache also known as a primary stabbing headache. There is a sharp, stabbing, pinpoint pain in the head.

  • Chronic daily headache is a group of headache disorder that occurs at least 15 days a month. Individuals feel constant pain throughout the day either on the forehead or temples.

  • Primary exertional headache is brought on by intense physical activity such as running, lifting weights or sexual activity. Normally happens in individuals with a family history of migraine.

  • Ice cream headache commonly known as brain freeze happens after taking cold things like cool drinks or ice cream. Common occurrence in migraine patients.

  • Hypnic headache commonly called alarm clock headache is thought to occur due to disorder of rapid eye movement (REM). This wakes up people from sleep at night with bouts of headache lasting from 15 minutes to 3 hours.

Secondary headache disorders

Medication overuse headache

Many drugs mention headache as an adverse effect. Although contradictory many medications used to treat headaches can cause medication overuse and rebound headaches. Hence it is essential to pay caution to over-the-counter drugs and painkillers.

Sinus headache (Allergy Headaches)

When you experience a headache caused by allergies, you may feel it in any of these spaces within your sinuses. It may even feel like your face rather than your head. Sinuses are air-filled spaces inside your forehead, cheekbones, and behind the bridge of your nose. You may have pain in the cheeks, jaw, and teeth. You may feel pain on the top of your head which is aggravated by stooping. At the same time, you might have other sinus symptoms, such as a runny nose, fullness in your ears, and fever.

Acute inflammation and infection can be treated with antibiotics, but chronic or long-standing sinusitis requires medical attention and treatment. As home remedies you can drink apple cider vinegar along with steaming to relieve congestion which can alleviate headache.

Exposure to a substance or its withdrawal (Alcohol Headache)

Alcohol headaches are a common type. They have the symptoms of fatigue, dizziness, and nausea. Alcohol is a headache trigger for many migraine sufferers, which can be classified into two types - immediate headaches, which develop within 3 hours of ingestion, and more common, delayed headaches. Withdrawal from alcohol or other medicines or additive substances can also trigger headaches which requires medical attention and psychotherapy.

Altitude headache

If you enjoy skiing or hiking in the mountains, you may know the most common side effects of spending time in high-altitude settings - altitude headaches which happens because of hypoxia. These occur when a person ascends to high altitudes. It is the most prominent symptom of mountain sickness (AMS), including other symptoms such as nausea, muscle aches, and dizziness.

Hypertension Headaches

Hypertension headaches can be caused by stress, poor posture, eye strain, or muscle tension. It commonly presents pain in the occipital region and gets worse upon waking up in the morning.

Highly elevated blood pressure can cause headache with other associated symptoms of giddiness, nausea, sweating, palpitations, and loss of consciousness. This might also happen due to a life-threatening situation like stroke. This kind of headache signals an emergency. Don’t take these symptoms lightly. Get medical attention immediately.

Thunderclap Headaches

Thunderclap headaches live up to their name, striking like a clap of thunder. The pain of these severe headaches’ peaks within 60 seconds. Thunderclap headaches are uncommon, but they can warn of potentially life-threatening conditions.

This headache should be taken seriously. It is usually the only warning of a severe problem such as brain infection, brain tumour or subarachnoid haemorrhage. Other symptoms of the headaches include changes in vision, confusion, nausea, numbness, vomiting, weakness, fever, and more. They usually involve bleeding in and around the brain. Many often call this the first and worst headache of their life. Seek emergency medical attention for a thunderclap headache.

Other causes of a secondary headache include seizures, structural abnormalities of head, neck, or spine such as an irritation to nerves or postural disturbances. Trigeminal neuralgia may also mimic a migraine headache. Frequent and recurrent attacks of headache is a cause of concern and requires a thorough medical check-up to rule out life-threating conditions and treatment plan and lifestyle adjustments.

Expert Care at MD.CO.UK

The first step to effective headache relief is figuring out what kind of headache you have. By identifying the symptoms and getting the proper treatment, you can find your path to wellness and lessen headaches' impact on your life.

Our neurological specialists at MD.CO.UK are committed to treating headaches and migraines. We offer professional care and extensive treatment options for migraine sufferers and those with other types of headaches. Make an appointment with us to learn more about how we can assist you in getting headache pain relief.