Health Topics

What Are The Types Of Headaches?

A comprehensive headache classification guide was established by the International Headache Society and includes more than 150 diagnostic headache categories. However, there are two major types of headaches: primary headaches and secondary headaches.

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches are not the result of another medical condition. Include tension, migraine, mixed headache syndrome and cluster headaches.

  • Tension headaches: the most common type of primary headaches, accounting for about 90 percent of all headaches diagnosed. These muscle contraction headaches cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over a prolonged period of time. Tension headaches can be classified as chronic, occurring more than 15 days per month, or episodic, occurring less than 15 days per month.
  • Migraines: the second most common type of primary headaches. The exact cause of migraines is unknown, although they are neurovascular in nature and are related to changes in the brain as well as inherited abnormalities in certain areas of the brain. Migraine pain is moderate to severe and can last from 4 hours to 3 days. Migraines are associated with symptoms such as sensitivity to light, noise or odors, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite and stomach upset or abdominal pain.
  • Mixed headache syndrome: the combination of migraine and tension headaches.
  • Cluster headaches: the least common, but most severe, type of primary headache. The pain of a cluster headache is intense and may be described as having a burning or piercing quality that is throbbing or constant. The pain is located behind one eye or in the eye region, without changing sides. The term "cluster headache" refers to headaches that have a characteristic grouping of attacks. Cluster headaches occur one to three times per day during a cluster period, which may last 2 weeks to 3 months. The headaches may disappear completely for months or years, only to recur.

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches, or those that result from another medical condition, include sinus headaches, hormone headaches, chronic progressive headaches or headaches that occur as a result of a head injury, trauma or more serious condition such as a tumor.

  • Sinus headaches: headaches associated with a deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead or bridge of the nose. The pain usually intensifies with sudden head movement or straining and usually occurs with other sinus symptoms, such as nasal discharge, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever and facial swelling.
  • Hormone headaches: headaches in women are often associated with changing hormone levels that occur during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. Chemically induced hormone changes, such as with birth control pills, also trigger headaches in some women.
  • Chronic progressive headaches: headaches that get worse and happen more often over time. Chronic progressive headaches are also called traction or inflammatory headaches. These are the least common type of headache, accounting for less than 5 percent of all headaches. Chronic progressive headaches may be the result of an illness or disorder of the brain or skull.