What Type Of Headache Am I Having?

By Dr. Bryen Brown

July 8, 2021

One thing that confuses a lot of people is the type of headache they are having. If on Family Feud, I think a “migraine headache” would be the number one answer if 100 people were asked what type of headaches they get. In this article I will discuss the different types of common, everyday headaches that people have based on different factors such as: where it hurts, how long it hurts, headache triggers, etc.

Treating these headaches is found here in a different article. I felt in order to know how to treat you must first know what it is. Hopefully after reading this, you will be able to distinguish which type is affecting you or your loved ones and help to better choose the best treatment options. This is by no means a way to diagnose yourself. This article just helps you have an idea. Only a doctor can diagnose what type of headache you have.

There are 3 different categories of headaches: primary, secondary, and cranial neuralgias. Headaches are categorized based on how they start. Primary headaches are shown to be the most common of the bunch which includes migraines, tension type, and cluster headaches among many others. They are the headaches that are not caused by an underlying condition but are the problem themselves. The brain itself cannot feel pain so it uses other structures in the head such as muscles, nerves, and blood vessels to carry out the mission of causing the pain for the headache.

Common secondary headaches include headaches such as sinus headaches, exertional, and those caused by injury to the neck or brain, to name a few. Secondary headaches are usually caused by another medical condition that triggers headaches. The pain signals for these headaches are considered to be warning signs for the more serious medical condition.

Cranial Neuralgias are headaches stemming from inflamed nerves. There are 12 cranial nerves that exit the brain and supply the structures of the face. These nerves can become damaged, inflamed or irritated and create facial pain or headaches. Trigeminal neuralgia is known to be the most common type of these headaches which we will discuss below.

Now that we know the roots of the headache tree, let’s get the fruit of the conversation by distinguishing and ruling out the specifics of each headache so you have a better understanding of what you have.

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The most common primary type of a headache is a tension-type headache. If you are experiencing dull, achy pain that is located in either your forehead, temporal, or neck regions, there is a high chance you are experiencing a tension headache. Tension headaches utilize the muscles of the head to relay its discomforts. The forehead, neck, and temporal muscles become spastic or contracted causing tightness and pulling of the muscles creating pain. Tension headaches are triggered by physical or emotional stress and prolonged bad posture.

Migraine headaches are headaches that you will feel one one side of the head. The pain can be described as intense throbbing or pulsating. They typically last from 4 hours to 3 days. They also include symptoms such as nausea and/or vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound. Most people have sensations called “auras” where visual changes such as flashing lights or crazy lines appear that usually indicate a migraine headache is coming. Migraines also have triggers such as certain foods or smells, stress, lack of sleep, and hormonal changes to name a few.

Cluster headaches are said to be not only one of the worst headaches known to man but one of the worst pains known to man. Cluster headaches are felt behind one eye. They can occur up to as many as eight times per day, at approximately the same time of the day, most often at night. They call them clusters because they come in bunches at a time. Other symptoms may include: red and watery, nasal congestion, sweating, pupil constriction and swelling of the eyelid. Triggers for cluster headaches include drinking alcohol, smoking, and sensitivity to certain smells such as paint, bleach, and perfume.

Secondary Headaches

Post-Traumatic headaches are usually dull and achy or pulsating, and they get worse from time to time. They can also include symptoms such as vertigo, nausea and/or vomiting, trouble concentrating, dizziness/lightheadedness, memory loss, fatigue, or irritability/mood swings. Post traumatic headaches can cover a range of severity from simply falling out of bed and hitting your head to headaches following motor vehicle accidents or multiple collisions from playing American football. They can occur up to 7 days following the traumatic event.

The sinus headache is a common headache many people diagnose themselves but in actuality sinus headaches are uncommon. People usually mistake tension headaches as sinus headaches. Pressure builds in the sinuses located in the lower center of the forehead above the eyes and under the eyes to the nose. Infections and allergic reactions allow these sinuses to inflame, block the sinus pathways and create pressure. This pressure causes facial pain that people relate as a headache. If you suspect you are experiencing this, you will also likely have a runny nose, fever, or feeling of swelling or fullness in your face and/or ears.The pain is said to be deep, dull, and constant in the lower forehead, cheekbones, or bridge of the nose.

Exertional headaches occur after you exert your body such as exercise, laborious work, or sexual activities. They can also occur with pressure of stress to the chest or abdomen including coughing, sneezing, or straining on the toilet. They are usually located either on one or both sides of the head. They are said to be moderate to severe throbbing headaches that can last from 5 minutes to several days. Other symptoms include nausea/vomiting, neck stiffness, or visual disturbances.

Cranial Neuralgias

Trigeminal neuralgias are headaches that stem from damaged or inflamed trigeminal nerves which are located on both sides of the face usually affecting one side. The pain is said to be severe, intense stabbing pain in the face, cheek, and nose region. In some cases, the pain is said to be incapacitating. It lasts from seconds to a few minutes but is excruciating as it rapidly appears and then disappears throughout the day. Triggers include eating, talking, brushing your teeth, or putting on makeup.

Now I know I left out a number of other headaches. And I’m sorry if the headache or symptoms you have are not listed above. Still in all, consult your doctor (chiropractor, primary care physician, neurologist, etc) to whom you feel can diagnose you or at least lead you in the right way to find the best treatment for whichever head you or someone you know are suffering from. The headaches above range in severity and all should be taken seriously. Headaches, although considered normal due to so many people suffering from them, are NOT normal. They should be taken seriously and some can be managed or eliminated with effort and the right guidance. Others may need more invasive procedures.

Again, this article is solely focused on the conditions themselves. Now that you have more knowledge on what the problem is, the next step is how to change them. The best thing to do is be proactive and change the easy things you can change that will help manage your headaches to decrease the frequency and severity of them.

For more information on how, click HERE for the next steps to take action.

Dr. Bryen Brown

About the author

Dr. Bryen Brown is married to Dawn and has one son. He grew up in Bogalusa, LA and received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Grambling State University in 2008. He then attended and graduated from Texas Chiropractic College in 2012. Click Here To Read Full Bio

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