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What are the Different Types of Common Headaches?

Tuesday, February 06, 2018 8:14 AM

Headaches are never fun and can sometimes be bad enough to cancel plans. While they can be painful and a pain for us, when correctly diagnosed can usually be easily controlled with the correct treatments. Susan Rubin, MD, Neurology  at NorthShore, talks about the different types of headaches, how they present and remedies.


Tension Headaches
One of the most common types of headaches, tension headaches are often caused by stress or emotional strain. They typically involve both sides of the head at the same time like across the forehead or the back of the head. Tension headaches are typically not too serious and can usually be controlled with over-the-counter analgesics. Good health practices that decrease stress and strain like exercise, healthy eating and getting plenty of sleep can help control them - but it is important to note what triggers them to avoid a headache in the future.

Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are recurring headaches that happen in regular intervals or in cycles – over days, weeks or months. These headaches typically come on very quickly and cause severe pain on one side of your head, with possible eye-watering and nasal congestion on the same side as the pain. Facial flushing on that side only is also possible. These headaches are often shorter in duration but more severe in intensity.

Common Risk Factors:

  • Men are more likely to have cluster headaches
  • Smokers are more likely to have cluster headaches
  • Alcohol can trigger an attack
  • People between the ages of 20 and 50 are more likely to experience them
  • Family history increases your risk for cluster headaches

These headaches are often responsive to oxygen therapy but medications may also be needed to shorten their cycle.

Migraine Headaches
Migraines are moderate-to-severeheadaches that can last 4 to 72 hours. Migraines can disrupt normal activity, but are a health problem that can be treated. Most people get a throbbing headache on one side of their head, which is moderate to severe in intensity and worse with movement. Migraines also are associated with nausea and/or vomiting and/or sensitivity to light and sound. Some people will have an aura preceding the headache for 20-30 minutes like flashing lights or a strange sensation but that is not required to diagnose a migraine. While everyone’s symptoms are different, speak with your physician to see how you can be treated. For individual migraines, migraine-specific pain relievers are the treatment of choice. However, if you are having more than three to four a month, a preventative medication might be needed to help reduce the headache frequency and prevent pain.  There are a number of alternative treatments that can be helpful as well and avoiding triggers can be helpful.

Common Triggers:

  • Lack of food
  • Poor sleep
  • Stress
  • Red wine
  • High-sodium diet
  • Strong odors
  • Bright light

If you have recurring headaches, keep a journal of when they happen, how long they last and what you think caused them to bring to your physician. Your physician can discuss with you what your next steps are and remedies for the headaches.