6 Types of Headaches: How to Recognize Which Ones are Dangerous

By John Summerly. Originally published on preventdisease.com

Ordinary headaches are part of the normal human experience and there are many ways to get rid of a headache fast. Headaches that are severe, persistent or associated with other symptoms may signal other health problems. While most headaches are completely harmless, there are several major types to be aware of.

The brain itself is insensitive to pain. Headache pain occurs either in the tissues covering the brain, attaching structures at the base of the brain, or Muscles and blood vessels around the scalp, face, and neck.

A Primary Headache is one when a disease or other medical condition does not cause it.

Secondary headaches are caused by other medical conditions, such as sinusitis infection, neck injuries or abnormalities, and stroke. About 2% of headaches are secondary headaches caused by abnormalities or infections in the nasal or sinus passages.

In this article we look at 6 frequent types of headaches…

Types of Headaches

TMJ Headache

Young beautiful woman has pain in the yaw
TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) headache is caused by clenching the jaws or grinding the teeth (usually during sleep), or by abnormalities in the jaw joints themselves.

The diagnosis is easy if chewing produces pain or if jaw motion is restricted or noisy.

TMJ pain can occur in the ear, cheek, temples, neck, or shoulders.

Sinus Headache

Many primary headaches, including migraine, are misdiagnosed as sinus headache. Sinus headaches can occur in the front of the face, usually around the eyes, across the cheeks, or over the forehead.

They are usually mild in the morning and increase during the day and are usually accompanied by fever, runny nose, congestion, and general debilitation.

Sinus headaches spread over a larger area of the head than migraines, but it is often difficult to tell them apart, particularly if headache is the only symptom of sinusitis; they even coexist in many cases.

Often, the visual changes associated with migraine can rule out sinusitis, but such visual changes do not occur with all migraines.

Cluster Headache

clusterheadace
Cluster headaches are among the most painful of all headaches. The signature is a pattern of periodic cycles of headache attacks, which may be episodic or chronic. (It should be noted that a significant percentage of people who experience a first cluster attack do not have another one.) Between 80% and 90% of these headache patients have episodic cluster headache cycles. Such patients experience cycles of daily or near daily attacks that may last from one week to one year. During an active cycle, sufferers can experience one or more bouts a day, or as few as one every other day.

The attacks themselves are usually brief but extremely painful. Such cycles are followed by headache-free periods lasting at least fourteen days. About 10% of cluster headache patients have a chronic form, which lasts more than a year and remissions that last less than 14 days. About 10% of patients experience so-called premonitory symptoms from one day to 8 weeks before a cluster headache attack. They can include fatigue, neck ache, stiffness, odd sensations in the limbs, an extreme sensitivity in the area where the headache will develop. When the actual attack occurs, symptoms typically increase rapidly (within about 15 minutes) to intense levels.

People often awaken with them a few hours after they go to bed. The attack typically causes very severe, stabbing or boring pain centered in one eye. Pain may also occur above the eye, near the temples, or on one side of the head. Migraine-like symptoms (sensitivity to light and sound, auras and rarely, nausea and vomiting) may occur. Women have a higher risk for nausea and vomiting than men do. Capsaicin-based nasal sprays have been found to be very effective for cluster headaches.

Tension Headache

Tension-type headache (also called muscle contraction headache) is the most common of all headaches. Tension-type headache is often experienced in the forehead, in the back of the head and neck, or in both regions. It is commonly described as a tight feeling, as if the head were in a vise.

Soreness in the shoulders or neck is common.

Sufferers of tension-type headaches are more sensitive to light than the general population, even between attacks. They also may suffer from visual disturbances. (Neither of these symptoms is as intense as in people with migraines. Tension-type headaches also do not cause nausea or limit activities as migraine headaches do.) Tension-type headaches can last minutes to days.

 

Neck Headache

neckheadache
Cervicogenic Headache, is a secondary headache disorder. In other words, your headache is caused by a neck joint problem. The good news is that by fixing your neck problem, your neck headache can be alleviated. Researchers feel that neck headache accounts for between 4% to 22% of all headaches seen clinically. Your neck headache can originate from a variety of musculoskeletal and neurovascular structures in your upper neck; including the upper three neck joints, C2/3 disc, spinal cord coverings and neck muscles. A dysfunction in these areas can trigger pain signals that travel to your brainstem. This information is then transmitted into your brain and interpreted as a headache.

The most likely sources of your neck headache is dysfunction of either your upper neck joints, neck muscles or nerves, which trigger pain signals that travel to your trigeminal nucleus in your brainstem, where you interpret the pain signals as a neck headache.

The most common cause of neck headache is dysfunction of your upper three neck joints. In simple terms, your neck joints can cause neck headache or pain if they are either too stiff or move too much (eg wobbly and unsupported by weak muscles) or are locked in an abnormal joint position eg. locked facet joint or poor posture. Skilled Osteopaths and Chiropractors can release locked joints and relieve these headaches almost instantly.

Migraine

Migraine is now recognized as a chronic illness, not simply as a headache. In general, there are four symptom phases to a migraine (although they may not all occur in every patient): the prodrome, auras, the attack, and the postdrome phase. The prodrome phase is a group of vague symptoms that may precede a migraine attack by several hours, or even a day or two. Such prodrome symptoms can include sensitivity to light or sound, changes in appetite, fatigue and yawning, malaise and mood changes. Auras are sensory disturbances that occur before the migraine attack occurs. Patients may have mixed positive and negative auras. Positive auras include bright or shimmering light or shapes at the edge of their field of vision called scintillating scotoma . They can enlarge and fill the line of vision. Other positive aura experiences are zigzag lines or stars.

Negative auras are dark holes, blind spots, or tunnel vision (inability to see to the side). If untreated, attacks usually last from 4 to 72 hours. A typical migraine attack produces throbbing pain on one side of the head, but it can be bilateral. But the word migraine is derived from the Greek word hemikrania, meaning “half of the head” because the pain of migraine often occurs on one side. Pain also sometimes spreads to affect the entire head. After a migraine attack, there is usually a postdrome phase, in which patients may feel exhausted and mentally foggy for a while.


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