Headaches can range across the intensity spectrum from mild, tolerable pain to severe pain that prohibits daily activities. Headaches can be occasional, recurrent or chronic in frequency. With several different types of headaches, it can often be difficult to understand the underlying cause of the pain.
According to the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD), there are four primary types of headaches. Secondary causes of headaches include head or neck trauma and injuries, stroke, intracranial hemorrhage, and vascular malformations.
Types of primary headaches that many people experience
The term migraine is originally derived from the Greek word hemicranias, which means “half of the head”. And, for 70 percent of the time, the migraine is one-sided or occurring on one side of the head. Migraine headaches usually last from 4-12 hours and vary in frequency from daily, to fewer than 1 per year. Many people suffer from frequent migraines and may not even realize what the trigger is because the underlying cause of migraine is unknown. Research indicates that genetic factors play a role in who develops migraine headaches. Hormone levels are also a factor, furthermore, migraine affects about 15 percent of the population, three times as many women as men have migraine.
While the causes of migraine are unknown, there are number of triggers, which are thought to instigate a migraine attack. Though the strength and significance of the correlation with the triggers is uncertain. Commonly found triggers are stress, hunger, and fatigue.
The most common type of all headaches, found in all age groups and are nearly equal in prevalence among men and women is the tension type headache. They are typically expressed with pain in the front of the head and base of skull. The pain usually radiates in a band like fashion on both sides, from forehead to base of skull. The pain often starts or radiates to the neck and upper back muscles. It occurs periodically or chronically and often lasts from 30 minutes to several days.
A tension-type headache can be triggered by environmental or internal stress, where muscles in the neck or head become tense, often as a response to stress, injury or activities that result in the head being held in a strenuous position for a long period of time. The patient sometimes knows these stresses. However, other times it is hard to determine the specific trigger.
Cluster headaches are characterized by severe, unilateral pain that is around the eye or along the side of the head, seen 5-8 times more commonly in men than women. While the exact cause of cluster headaches is unknown, it is thought to be related to a sudden release of histamine or serotonin. This occurrence may be triggered by a various factor including alcohol, cigarette smoking, high altitude, heat exertion, and bright light. Another theory is an abnormality in the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that controls the biological clock, can cause cluster headaches.
Cluster headaches often occur at the same time each day. Cluster headaches can be more intense than a migraine attack but fortunately do not last as long as a migraine headache. Patient with cluster headache may be able to attain some degree of relief though accurate diagnosis and treatment.