Know the Different Types of Headache and their Treatment

By Dr. Manish Marda in Pain Management

Jun 30 , 2017 | 20 min read


All of us have different types of headache and very conveniently, people treat themselves with simple painkillers, drinking extra water, taking rest, or simply by waiting for a headache to subside on its own. Even so, headaches can be distressing and disabling, and sometimes people worry that they may have a serious underlying cause. In fact most headaches are unpleasant but cause no lasting harm.

Causes of Headache

Headaches can occur due to a slew of reasons like alcohol, particularly red wine. Poor posture, skipping meals, stress, processed meats, underlying conditions, are common factors that cause headaches.

What Are The Different Types Of Headaches?

Headaches can be primary, or they can be secondary which means they are a side-effect of a separate illness or injury.

Dr. Manish Marda says, your doctor can generally tell the cause of different types of headache by talking to you and examining you thoroughly. Once he or she has discovered the cause then you will be able to decide how to reduce or stop the headaches. This may involve taking medication only when you get the headaches, taking daily medication to prevent them, or, sometimes, stopping a medication you are already taking.

Headaches should not be taken for granted, no matter how mild they seem to be. They can be quite painful and painkillers may be needed to get rid of them. However, they can also become a very serious issue. There are many types of headache: common types include tension induced headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. If you experience any of these headaches for more than four days straight, you should seek medical attention to rule out potential causes and get help with treatment options.

Learning about the different types of headaches can help bring some relief to those who suffer from them. Here's all the information you need to learn about the different types of headache and their treatment.

Primary Headaches

The most common types of headaches are tension headaches and migraines.

  1. Tension Headaches

    Tension headaches are usually felt as a band or across the forehead. They can last for several days. They can be uncomfortable and tiring, but they do not usually disturb sleep. Most people can carry on working with a tension headache. They are not usually made worse by physical activity, although it’s not unusual to be a bit sensitive to bright light or noise.

    Tension headaches tend to get worse as the day goes on and are often least in the morning. (An exception to this would be a headache caused by sleeping in an awkward position causing a sore neck.) Tension headaches are usually felt on both sides of the head (known as symmetrical) – most often the front. They are often called pressure headaches. They can interrupt work and concentration but usually not enough to send you to bed.

    Tension headaches are caused by tightness in the muscles at the back of the neck and over the scalp. Tiredness, stress, and an awkward sleeping position can make them worse. Some people get tension headaches if they drink too much caffeine or alcohol, if they don’t drink enough water or if they go for a long time between meals and become tired and hungry.

    Tension headaches usually respond to simple painkillers. Changes in lifestyle can help – such as having less caffeine and more water, and a sensible diet. Changing pillows can sometimes help, as can getting adequate sleep and avoiding excessive noise. Occasionally tension headaches can be caused by poor vision, particularly if reading in low light for long periods.

    Tension headaches are very common. This is a very simple headache form that is often caused by too much stress, poor posture, or anxiety. They're acute and can last from 1 to 4 months.

    About 80 percent of the general population experiences them once in their lifetime. Sometimes, they can also be brought about by physical stress. But, this types of headache can also be resolved by taking painkillers and by drinking enough fluids to prevent dehydration.

    Treatment for Tension Headaches

    Although painkillers help, you can’t get rid of tension headaches with just painkillers. The only way to get relief from tension headaches is by taking a lot of rest and relaxation. In fact, the more rest you get, the sooner your headache will dissipate. You can also try yoga and acupuncture to get rid of tension headaches. Getting enough sleep is also a key to preventing them and if they persist, consult a doctor.

  2. Migraines

    Migraines are also very common. A typical migraine is one-sided and throbbing. Indeed, headaches that are one-sided, headaches that throb and headaches that make you feel sick are more likely to be migraines than anything else. Migraines are often severe enough to be disabling. Some patients need to go to bed to sleep off their headache.

    Migraines can last anything from four hours to three days. They are often made worse by movement or sound. Patients often feel sick (nausea) or are sick (vomit), even if the pain is not severe. Often patients find bright light and even TV make a headache worse. Most people with migraines have 1-2 attacks a month.

    About a third of people have a migraine with ‘aura’, or ‘a classical migraine’. In this condition warning symptoms (the aura) occur before a migraine. These most commonly consist of flashing lights, often in the shape of zigzags. They are sometimes described as being like firework displays. They tend to occur on one side of the vision only (although affecting both eyes at the same time). Some people actually lose half of their vision completely. Others experience tingling or weakness on one side of the body or slurring of speech. These warning symptoms can last for up to an hour and are generally followed by a headache. Typically the headache is on the opposite side to the visual symptoms.

    What Is The Treatment For Migraines?

    Migraines can improve with rest, sleep, darkness and quiet. Drinking water can help if you don’t feel sick, and simple painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can be effective. Many people find that they are not, and have special migraine medication prescribed by their doctor. These medications can consist of tablets which you take when you have a headache. However, some people take a daily tablet to act as a migraine preventer, and this can be a good solution for those who have frequent migraines.

    Migraines can be triggered by stress, certain foods such as chocolate and red wine, tiredness, and lack of body fluid (dehydration).

  3. Cluster Headaches

    Cluster headaches are very severe headaches, sometimes called ‘suicide headaches’. They occur in clusters, often every day for a number of days or even weeks. Then they disappear for months on end. They are uncommon and tend to occur particularly in adult male smokers. They are severe, one-sided headaches, which are really very disabling (that is, they prevent regular activity). Cluster headaches are usually one-sided. Patients often have a red watery eye on the affected side, a stuffy runny nose and a droopy eyelid.

    What Is The Treatment For Cluster Headaches?

    Cluster headaches usually require headache treatment from your doctor, which can be with tablets or occasionally with inhaled oxygen.

  4. Chronic Daily Headaches

    Chronic daily headache or chronic tension headache is usually caused by muscle tension in the back of the neck and affects women more often than men. Chronic means that the condition is persistent and ongoing. These headaches can be started by neck injuries or tiredness and may be made worse by medication overuse (see below). A headache that occurs almost every day for six months or more is called a chronic daily headache.

    Chronic daily head pain is another type of headache. It's usually caused by stress or tension, and can last for months, sometimes years. About 70 percent of the people who experience this form of headache are women.

    What Is The Treatment For Chronic Daily Head Pain?

    This types of headache is best treated by physiotherapyy, avoiding painkillers and occasionally by antidepressant medications (many of which can be effective against chronic headaches).

    If you're suffering from chronic daily head pain, try to find a hobby that is both relaxing and rewarding. Or, you can seek professional help to get some relief from this headache.

  5. Primary Stabbing Headaches

    Primary stabbing headaches are sometimes called ‘ice-pick headaches’ or ‘idiopathic stabbing headache.’ The term ‘idiopathic’ is used by doctors for something that comes without a cause. These are short, stabbing headaches which are very sudden and severe. They usually last between 5 and 30 seconds, at any time of the day or night, and they feel as if an ice pick is being stuck in your head. They often occur in or just behind the ear and they can be quite frightening. Although they are not migraines they are more common in people who get migraines – almost half of people who experience migraines get primary stabbing headaches. They are often felt in the place on the head where the migraines tend to occur.

    What Is The Treatment For Primary Stabbing Head Pain?

    Primary stabbing headaches are too short to treat, although headache prevention medications may reduce their number.

  6. Trigeminal Neuralgia

    Trigeminal neuralgia causes pains – mainly in the face. These consist of extremely short bursts of electric shock-like pain in the face – in the area of the eyes, nose, scalp, forehead, jaws, and/or lips. It is usually one-sided and is more common in people over the age of 50. It can be triggered by touch or light breeze on the face.

    Trigeminal neuralgia is a very rare types of headache that feels like an electric shock in the mouth or facial area. It's an unusual kind of headache because it affects women more than men. This form of headache can also be hereditary, which means that you might have a higher chance of getting it if someone in your family has it too.

    What Is The Treatment For Trigeminal Neuralgia?

    Usually, trigeminal neuralgia can be treated with preventative medicines.

    Trigeminal neuralgia can cause a lot of pain and suffering. Fortunately, there are some ways to mitigate the symptoms and avoid severe pain. Applying heat, cold, or pressure will help you relieve the pain of this headache. You can try dietary modifications, yoga, and meditation to prevent recurring headaches.

What Are The Different Types Of A Secondary Headache?

Sometimes headaches have underlying causes, and treatment of a headache involves treating the cause. People often worry that headaches are caused by serious disease, or by high blood pressure. Both of these are extremely uncommon causes of a headache – indeed high blood pressure usually causes no symptoms at all.

  1. Chemicals, Drugs, And Substance Withdrawal Headaches

    Secondary headaches can be due to a substance, or its withdrawal – for example, carbon monoxide (which is produced by gas heaters which are not properly ventilated), drinking alcohol (with a headache often experienced the morning after), and lack of body fluid (dehydration). Medication-overuse headaches, Cervicogenic headache is also a secondary headache discussed below, are the most common cause of a secondary headache.

    What Is The Treatment For Chemicals, Drugs And Substance Withdrawal?

    Withdrawal headache occurs after a person stops taking a medication or substances they had otherwise been using for a few weeks or months. Withdrawal headaches usually last 2-10 days.

  2. Medication-Overuse Headaches

    A medication-overuse headache is an unpleasant and long-lasting headache. It is caused by taking painkilling medication – usually for a headache! Unfortunately, when painkillers are taken regularly for headaches, the body responds by making more pain sensors in the head. Eventually, the pain sensors are so many that the head is super-sensitive and the headache won’t go away. People who have these headaches often take more and more painkillers to try to feel better.

    What Is The Treatment For Medication-Overuse Head Pain?

    Unfortunately, the treatment is to stop all painkillers for at least a month. Most patients find this very hard to do and take a lot of convincing to even try. The headaches may take weeks or even months to lessen (subside) and may get worse first.

    Most common painkillers can cause chronic daily headache, but medicines such as ibuprofen – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – are less likely to cause it. If they have not been involved they can be tried as a treatment. Headache preventers are also sometimes used. Many doctors feel that the best way forward is to stop all headache pills and weather the worsening of a headache in order to get better in the end.

  3. Headaches Due To Referred Pain

    Some headaches can be caused by pain in some other part of the head, such as a tooth or ear pain, pain in the jaw joint and pains in the neck.

    Sinusitis is a common cause. The sinuses are ‘holes’ in the skull which are there to stop it from being too heavy. They are lined with mucous membranes, like the lining of your nose, and produce mucus in response to colds or allergy. The headache of sinusitis is often felt at the front of the head and also in the face. Often the face feels tender to pressure, particularly just below the eyes and beside the nose. You may have a stuffy nose and the pain is often worse when you bend over.

    In acute glaucoma, the pressure inside the eyes goes up suddenly and this causes a sudden very severe headache behind the eye. The eyeball can feel very hard to touch, the eye is red and the vision is usually affected.

    Headaches caused by referred pain are usually chronic. They can last for years, and some of them might get worse with time. You'll know that you suffer from referred pain headaches if you get another pain in a different part of your body when your head starts to throb with pain.

    Treatment for Headaches Due To Referred Pain

    You'll need professional help to treat this kind of headache. Your doctor will first check your normal neurological status to rule out other causes of the problem. If it's due to referred pain, your doctor might prescribe medication to lessen the pain.

  4. Exertional Headaches/Sexual Headaches

    Exertional headaches are those associated with physical activity. They can become severe very quickly after a strenuous activity such as running, coughing, sexual intercourse and straining with bowel movements. Most exertional headaches are harmless. They are more commonly experienced by patients who also get migraines, or who have relatives with a migraine.

    Headaches related to sex particularly worry patients. They can occur as sex begins, at orgasm, or after sex is over. Headaches at orgasm are the most common type. They tend to be severe, at the back of the head, behind the eyes or all over. They last about twenty minutes and are not usually a sign of any other problems.

    Exertional and sexual intercourse-related headaches are not usually a sign of serious underlying problems. Very occasionally they can be a sign that there is a leaky blood vessel on the surface of the brain, so if they are marked and repeated then it’s sensible to discuss them with your doctor.

    Exertional headaches usually occur after long hours of physical or mental effort. However, they can also be brought on by strong emotions or medication. It's often associated with a headache that's preceded by physical strain, exertion, or exercise.

    Treatment for Exertional Headaches

    You should consult a doctor the very first time you suffer from exertional or sexual headaches. Doctors might recommend beta-blockers, such as propranolol, and indomethacin for treating this type of headache.

What Types Of Head Pain Are Serious Or Dangerous?

All headaches are unpleasant and some, such as a headache from medication misuse, is serious in the sense that if they are not tackled properly they may never go away. However, a few headaches are signs of serious underlying problems. These are uncommon – in many cases very rare.

Dangerous headaches tend to occur suddenly and to get progressively worse over time. They are more common in older people. They include the following:

Bleeding around the brain (subarachnoid haemorrhage).

  1. Meningitis And Brain Infections

    Meningitis is an infection of the tissues around the brain and encephalitis is an infection of the brain itself. Brain infections can be caused by germs called bacteria, viruses or fungi and they are thankfully rare. They cause a severe, disabling headache. Usually, patients are sick (vomit) and cannot stand the light. Often they have a stiff neck, too stiff to bend the head down so that the chin touches the chest. Patients are usually also unwell – hot, sweaty and ill.

    Meningitis and brain infections are also included in the list of types of headaches. You might experience pain in your head along with fever, vomiting, or dizziness if you have a brain infection.

    Treatment for Meningitis and Brain Infection

    If you suspect that your headache is caused by a brain infection, it's important that you visit your doctor immediately to get treatment. Sometimes, though, a simple earache can cause pain in your head.

  2. Temporal Arteritis

    Temporal arteritis is, generally, only seen in people over the age of 50. It is caused by swelling (inflammation) of the arteries in the temples and behind the eye. It causes a headache behind the forehead (a frontal headache). Typically the arteries in the forehead are tender and patients notice pain in the scalp when they comb their hair. Often the pain gets worse with chewing. Temporal arteritis is serious because if it is not treated it can cause sudden loss of eyesight.

    What Is The Treatment For Temporal Arteritis?

    Temporal arteritis is treated with steroids like prednisolone. And treatment is typically started before the full diagnosis and confirmation of the disease. This is because there is considerable risk of vision loss if not dealt with quickly.

  3. Hemicrania Continua

    Hemicrania continua is a very common type of headache. It's considered one of the most painful headaches because it's associated with severe, throbbing pain in the head. This headache usually goes away after a while, but you might experience it as many as 9 days a month.

    Treatment for Hemicrania Continua

    Approximately 10 percent of those suffering from hemicrania continua have migraines. The only way to cure this kind of pain is by taking medication. You can take propranolol, which helps lessen the inflammation and treat the symptoms of this type of headache. Do consult with your doctor before taking any form of treatment.

  4. Hypnic headaches

    Hypnic headaches usually occur among people after the age of 50.  It's a rare form of pain that affects people during sleep. Hence, it is also called "alarm clock" headaches. This type of headache can cause mild to moderate throbbing pain and can last up to 3 hours.

    Treatment for Hypnic Headaches

    To treat hypnic headaches, a full medical examination is needed. You might be prescribed caffeine, indomethacin, and lithium for the treatment of hypnic headaches.

  5. Thunderclap headaches

    Thunderclap headaches are a very rare type of headache. The most common cause of thunderclap headaches is brain tumour. However, this kind of headache can also be brought on by head trauma, fatigue, and stress.

    Treatment for Thunderclap Headaches

    If you experience a thunderclap headache, get in touch with a doctor. Thunderclap headaches can be an indication of various other conditions. It is essential to consult a doctor to execute a treatment plan.

  6. Hormone headache

    Hormone headaches are brought on by hormone changes in the body. These headaches can be triggered by your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause. And as a result, these headaches are most common in women.

    Treatment for Hormone Headaches

    Treatments for hormone headaches include over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Tylenol. Getting a good night's sleep and avoiding caffeine and alcoholic beverages can help you reduce hormonal headaches.

  7. Caffeine headache

    Caffeine headaches usually occur after consuming caffeine-containing products and can last up to 4 hours. However, it can be relieved by drinking water, which dilutes the caffeine in your body.

    Treatment for Caffeine Headaches

    It's important to drink plenty of water when you have this form of headache. You might be prescribed Tylenol or aspirin for treating caffeine headaches.

  8. Hypertension headache

    Hypertension headaches are a very common type of headache which occurs due to high blood pressure in the brain.

    Treatment for Hypertension Headaches

    As hypertension headaches indicate high blood pressure, you should consult a doctor immediately. It can be brought on and treated with antihypertensive medications, such as diuretics, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and alpha-blockers.

  9. Rebound Headache

    Rebound headache is caused by taking painkillers for a long period of time. When the medication wears off, you'll get severe pain in your head. For example, if you take over-the-counter pain relievers for a long time, you'll get a rebound headache. It usually occurs when you take certain medications for more than 15 days.

    Treatment for Rebound Headache

    The key to curing rebound headaches is avoiding medications that cause these headaches. You should also get enough sleep, as a lack of sleep can also lead to this type of headache.

  10. Post-traumatic headache

    Post-traumatic headaches are caused by a physical injury. But it can also be brought on by emotional stress. Post-traumatic headaches are prevalent in motor vehicle crash victims and people who have had a head injury in the past.

    Treatment of Post-traumatic Headaches

    Doctors prescribe painkillers such as Tylenol or Advil to cure these kinds of headaches. In more severe cases, your doctor might recommend surgery to treat the pain.

  11. Spinal headache

    Spinal headaches are often the result of low cerebrospinal fluid pressure due to a lumbar puncture. The symptoms of this type of headache include nausea, dizziness, tinnitus, visual changes, and many others.

    Treatment for Spinal Headaches

    To treat spinal headaches, the doctor usually prescribes painkillers such as Tylenol and Advil. You should consult your doctor immediately if you think that you have this kind of headache since it might be a sign of various other conditions.

  12. Hangover Headaches

    Hangover headaches occur after consuming alcohol. It usually starts about 8 to 11 hours after the consumption of alcohol and can last anywhere between 6 to 12 hours. The severity of this type of headache depends on how much alcohol you consumed.

    Treatment for Hangover Headaches

    Drinking water, taking painkillers such as Advil, and getting a good night's sleep can help you overcome hangover headaches.

  13. Sinus Headaches

    Sinus headaches occur due to nasal infection. This type of headache is characterised by pain around the sinus area and can last up to 3 days.

    Treatment for Sinus Headaches

    In order to treat this type of headache, you should consult your doctor who will prescribe painkillers, decongestants, and antibiotics. Nasal steroid sprays and antihistamines are usually used for the treatment of sinus headaches.

  14. Menstrual Headaches

    Menstrual headaches are brought on by hormonal changes in the body. They usually occur during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, between days 6 and 20 of the cycle.

    Treatment for Menstrual Headaches

    The treatment of this type of headache includes taking painkillers, such as Ibuprofen, Tylenol, and Naproxen. You should also get a good night's sleep to help make you feel better.

Can You Prevent Headaches?

As you can see, headaches can strike anybody at any time. It's important to find out how to prevent them over the long term to enjoy a headache-free life.

The following are some tips to help you prevent headaches:

  1. Eat a healthy and balanced diet

  2. Get enough sleep

  3. Stay hydrated

  4. Get adequate exercise

  5. Manage stress with yoga or meditation

  6. Limit caffeine, alcohol, and other addictions

When to See a Doctor

If you experience headaches often, it's important to consult a doctor. You should see a doctor if your headache persists, or is accompanied by pain in the neck or shoulders. You can seek expert help from a doctor at a Max Healthcare hospital as soon as possible if you experience any of these types of headaches.

Some of the symptoms of headaches that require immediate medical attention include:

  1. Headaches that are sudden and severe

  2. Headaches accompanied by loss of consciousness

  3. Feeling sick with nausea and vomiting before the headache

  4. Persistent headaches that occur more than once per month

  5. Headaches persist even after taking pain relievers, such as Advil or Tylenol.

In these cases, it might be necessary to consult a doctor immediately.


Headaches can be a painful experience and can be a symptom of other health problems. Though headaches are not always serious, it's important to seek medical care when needed. Remember to consult a doctor if you notice any unusual or persistent headache symptoms that occur more than once per month.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do I relieve a headache?

Try a Cold Pack, use a Heating Pad or Hot Compress, and ease Pressure on Your Scalp or Head.

  1. Dim the Lights
  2. Hydrate
  3. Practice Relaxation
  4. Get Some Caffeine

2. When should I worry about a headache?

See a doctor if the pain keeps returning if painkillers do not help and if your headache gets worse. Also, if you have a bad throbbing pain at the front or side of your head: which could be a migraine or a cluster headache.

3. What foods cause headaches?

Food items like chocolate and caffeinated beverages, like tea, coffee, and colas. Artificial sweeteners and processed meats that contain nitrite-containing meats, or other cured or processed meats.

4. Can dehydration cause headaches?

Even a little dehydration can cause headaches, which can come with fatigue, dizziness, extreme thirst, and a dry mouth.

5. What foods help a headache?

Food like leafy green vegetables, nuts, fatty fish, fruits, and seeds can help relieve headaches.

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