Types of Headaches

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There are many different types of headaches that are categorized according to their cause, symptoms, and ideal methods of treatment.

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The main types of headaches include tension headache, cluster headache, sinus headache, migraine, medication overuse headache, and hormone headache. Each of these types is covered in more detail below.

Tension headache

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache that affects the vast majority of adults at some point during their life.

A tension headache typically presents as a bilateral ache in the head and is often described as if a tight band was wrapped around the head. The pain is usually mild to moderate and thus does not prevent individuals from partaking in their normal daily activities. The duration of a tension headache can vary from less than an hour to several days.

The exact cause of a tension headache is not known. However, there are several factors that are considered to trigger tension headaches, some of which include stress, poor posture, inadequate sleep, dehydration, and skipping meals.

In most cases, adequate pain relief can be achieved through the use of simple analgesic medications, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, or aspirin. Prevention of tension headaches involves simple lifestyle changes to avoid known triggers of the condition.


A migraine is a type of vascular headache that involves a more severe and throbbing pain that may affect one or both sides of the head, in addition to several other possible symptoms. In fact, some people may experience nausea, vomiting, photophobia, phonophobia, or disturbing vision with a migraine. These symptoms may last from a few hours to several days and can prevent the affected individual from participating in their normal daily activities.

Many patients who suffer from migraines are able to treat the condition with simple analgesic medications; however, some may require other pain relief medication. Triptans are a class of drugs that can provide effective relief for many patients with more severe migraine pain.

Cluster headache

Cluster headaches are rare and cause very severe pain that is always localized to one side of the head. Cluster headaches are also often accompanied by other symptoms such as a runny or blocked nose, as well as redness or a drooping eyelid on one side of the face. This type of headache often has a quick onset, with the pain reaching its peak approximately 5-10 minutes after the initiation. Taken together, a cluster headache may last for up to a few hours before spontaneously subsiding.

Simple analgesic medications do not provide effective relief for the sudden and severe pain associated with cluster headaches. Instead, administration of oxygen and sumatriptan, which can be in the form of an injection or nasal spray, may be used to treat an acute attack. There are also several medications that can be used in the prevention of cluster headache episodes, such as verapamil.

There are two types of cluster headaches that include episodic cluster headache and chronic cluster headache. An episodic cluster headache is the most common type of cluster headache and involves about of regular headaches for a few weeks, followed by a rest period. Comparatively, a chronic cluster headache is characterized by regular headaches on an ongoing basis without a rest period.

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Sinus headache

A sinus headache is caused by the build-up of pressure in the sinuses of the nose, forehead, and cheeks, leading to a deep pain that gets more severe with sudden movements or straining of the head.

The ideal treatment for sinus headaches depends on the cause and severity of the sinusitis and may include simple analgesics, antibiotics, antihistamines, decongestants, or corticosteroids.

Medication overuse headache

A medication overuse headache is caused by excessive use of analgesic medications. This is usually a dull aching pain that is experienced by patients who have a history of relying on high doses of painkiller medications on a regular basis.

This type of headache can be managed by having a medication-free period to allow the excess medication to be excreted from the body. Although this may initially worsen the headache, the symptoms tend to improve within a few days.

Hormonal headache

Hormonal headaches predominantly affect women, as they often occur in relation to their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, or hormonal medications.

Lifestyle changes are useful to address the pain of hormonal headaches. These changes can include ensuring adequate sleep, eating regular meals, and keeping stress levels low. Simple analgesic medications are usually able to provide effective relief.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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