Demystifying Headaches

One of the commonest and most complicated complaints is the headaches. There are many different types of headaches and their presentation is unique . It is important to make a list of complaints and communicate the same to the doctor to help find the right diagnosis. There are more than 10 million cases of headaches reported every year in our country. They can affect anyone regardless of age, race and gender.

It can happen due to stress and emotional distress or be a medical disorder such as migraine or because of high Blood Pressure.

There are many different ways to define headaches, According to International Headache Society (IHS) , they can be categorized as primary and secondary headaches. The Primary are the ones that are not caused by another condition and Secondary happen because of an underlying cause.

The causes of headaches can be many too. The location, intensity, frequency, duration and other factors are variable and it is important to observe them and report to the treating doctor to help them make the diagnosis.

Primary headaches

Primary headaches are stand-alone illnesses caused directly by the overactivity of, or problems with, structures in the head that are pain-sensitive. This includes the blood vessels, muscles, and nerves of the head and neck. They may also result from changes in chemical activity in the brain.

Common primary headaches include migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches.

The common headache types :

Tension headaches

The most common type of headaches , usually start at midday and feels like a tight band around the head , maybe one sided or both and pain spread to or from the neck . These can be both episodic and chronic.


Migraines are the second most common form of primary headaches. A migraine headache causes a pulsating, throbbing pain usually on one side of the head. The aching is accompanied by other symptoms such as sensitivity to light, noise or smell, blurred vision, nausea and vomitting or stomach pain, loss of appetite.

Cluster headaches

This is an intense, piercing pain behind the eyes. It is the least common but most severe type of headache. The pain so bad that people when in pain usually pace during the attack. They are called cluster headaches because they happen in groups.

There are other types like Sinus headaches, Hormone headaches, Autonomic Cephalgias etc. The International Headache Society (IHS) has close to 150 types of headaches identified.

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are symptoms that present because of the stimulation of pain sensitive nerves of the head by some other conditions. That means these are the headaches which happen because of another causes.

Some of the common reasons for these are :

  • Brain tumors
  • Blood Clots
  • Concussion
  • Panic attacks
  • Alcohol induced hangovers
  • Stroke
  • Clenching the jaws
  • Teeth grinding
  • Dehydration
  • Eye problems like glaucoma
  • Sinus problems
  • Allergic Rhinitis
  • Stroke

Headache can be a warning sign of a serious disease too. It is advisable to seek medical advise at the earliest .

And if it gets progressively more painful and is non-responsive to over the counter medicines, is accompanied by fever or sensory changes, please consider it an emergency and reach the doctor at the earliest.