Determining what type of headache you have is essential to finding the right treatment. There are many different types of headaches that are grouped as either primary or secondary. Headaches are considered chronic if you have them at least 15 days a month for three or more months.
Primary headaches do not have any other known cause.
- Migraines are the most common type of primary headache and are more common in women. They can last from hours to days and are characterized by throbbing pain on one side of the head, nausea, and/or sensitivity to light, sound, or smells. Less commonly, you might see spots or wavy lines (auras).
- Tension headaches are dull, non-throbbing headaches that can last from hours to days.
- Trigeminal neuralgia is caused by compression of the trigeminal nerve near the brain. These headaches cause severe shooting or electric-shock-like pain on one side of the face, lasting for seconds to minutes each time. They can happen many times a day and can be triggered by eating, talking, drinking, brushing your teeth, or washing your face.
- Cluster headaches are more common in men and are characterized by severe pain around one eye; they do not switch from one side to the other. They last for less than three hours and may happen several times a day. Months or years may pass between cluster headache attacks, but then they may occur daily for weeks.
- Rare headache disorders include very severe types of headaches -- such as paroxysmal hemicrania, idiopathic stabbing headache, and new daily persistent headache -- that cause intense and jabbing head pain.
Secondary headaches have known causes that can range from mild (like sinus or allergy problems) to more serious (like blocked or narrowed blood vessels, a tumor, cerebrospinal fluid leak, or infection). Although rare, some can be severe and cause concerning symptoms like loss of consciousness, double vision, or stroke-like symptoms.