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A headache is an ache or pain occurring anywhere in the face, neck, or head. They are one of the most commonly experienced causes of pain and can range from occasional to recurrent (chronic) in frequency, with an intensity spectrum from mild, tolerable pain to severe pain that prohibits daily activities.

According to the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD), the four primary types of headaches are:

  • Tension-type Headaches: experienced as the pain of varying intensity in the head, face and neck, often described as a feeling of tightness or pressure
  • Migraines: a moderate to severe headache often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, increased sensitivity to sound, and increased sensitivity to light.
  • Cluster Headaches: piercing pain felt in the eye region, typically on only one side of the face without changing sides.
  • Headaches sensed in the cranial nerves

Different types of headaches may respond to different types of treatments as they originate by various causes.

If you suffer from frequent headaches, finding out the type of headache-causing the majority of symptoms is a critical part of treating the underlying causes of the pain. Learn about the major reasons, symptoms, and treatments for various headache types here, and consult Dr. Besharati before starting a treatment plan.

Tension-type Headaches

These are the most commonly occurring type of primary headaches. Up to nine out of ten adults will have or have had a tension-type headache in their lifetime. A tension-type headache is experienced as the pain of varying intensity in the head, face, and neck, often described as a feeling of tightness or pressure.


Migraines are less frequent, as 18% of women and 6% of men are estimated to experience a migraine at some point in their lifetime. The severity, duration, and frequency of migraine pain vary from one attack to another in the same person.

Though not all phases are necessarily experienced, the four possible stages of migraine are:

Prodrome- may occur hours or days before a migraine. The most common symptoms are:

  • altered mood
  • excessive sleepiness
  • stiff muscles

Aura- affects 20-30% of migraine sufferers and may occur immediately before the attack. Symptoms can be motor or sensory and include:

  • disturbance of vision, such as flashes of light or zigzag lines
  • feelings of pins and needles in the hand, arm, face, and mouth

Pain or Headache Phase- may occur on one or both sides of the head and usually lasts between 3 hours to 4 days.

Postdrome- may include a sore feeling where the migraine pain was, accompanied by feelings of tiredness, weakness, and cognitive difficulties.

Cluster Headaches

This rare primary headache type only affects 0.1% of the population, most commonly men in their late 20’s. A cluster headache usually lasts between 30 and 90 minutes but can occur for up to three hours. They are often recurrent, happening regularly at the same time of day or night. Many people who suffer from cluster headaches report between one to three headaches per day during a period.

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