Headaches can entirely derail your day. They often strike without warning, turning your productive workday into a wash, cutting your gym session short, or forcing you to bed early. Worse still, it’s often difficult to differentiate between different types of headaches.
There are three categories into which headaches typically fall—primary, secondary, and intracranial. Each of these categories can be further broken down into specific variations.
So, how do you identify a particular type of headache and then treat it? We’ve put together a brief guide for you below!
The four headaches that qualify as primary headaches are migraines, tension headaches, hypnic headaches, and cluster headaches. Each has different traits and treatments.
These headaches are notorious for pain that is accompanied by nausea and visual changes. Often, migraines are triggered by certain external factors and can be treated with NSAIDs, rest, and hydration.
Often described as a band squeezing the head, the pain caused by tension headaches is distinct. Anxiety, stress, eye strain, fatigue, and alcohol consumption can all cause tension headaches.
If you wake up from slumber with a throbbing, generalized headache, it may be a hypnic headache. These primary headaches can usually be treated with caffeine, lithium, melatonin flunarizine, and/or indomethacin.
Cluster headaches tend to affect the area around an eye, causing locational-specific pain, eye redness, and even tearing. Nasal lidocaine, oxygen, and triptans can all be used to effectively treat cluster headaches.
Just because they’re labeled as secondary does not mean these headaches can’t up-end your day. Familiarizing yourself with how the headaches present themselves and how they can be resolved is key!
These headaches are never fun. They feature the unpleasant symptoms of pain (specifically behind the brow or cheekbones), facial swelling, fever, congested ears, and a runny nose. They can be treated with analgesics, antihistamines, decongestants, and steroids.
The nerves that run through the spine can directly affect pain in your head. As such, spinal origin headaches usually require advanced diagnosis, including MRI studies, to locate the issue and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Epidural steroid injections, nerve block, NSAIDs, and physical therapy can all be used to relieve spinal origin headaches.
Difficulty concentrating, irritability, nausea, and restlessness are common symptoms of rebound headaches. These headaches often originate due to medication overuse and can be treated with hydration, an ice pack, NSAIDs, and rest.
Headaches that classify as intracranial are typically very serious and require medical attention. If you or someone you know is experiencing such a headache, do not take it lightly!
Intracranial bleeding can take a number of forms, including aneurysms, hematoma, and hemorrhage. Headaches of these origins will be the worst headache of your life and require surgical intervention to decompress the pressure within the cranium.
Another headache that will require surgery is that caused by a tumor. Usually, these headaches present themselves as a dull pain that feels like pressure or a sharp, stabbing pain. Either way, a CT scan or MRI would be required to properly diagnose it.
Sudden and very severe, headaches caused by strokes are extremely painful and time-sensitive. They will often be accompanied by other issues, such as poor balance, trouble seeing, weakness in the arms and face, and trouble speaking. Emergency treatment and analgesics are most commonly used to counteract stroke-induced headaches.
A headache accompanied by fever, photophobia, confusion, a stiff neck, and vomiting may be caused by meningitis. Usually caused by viral infections (rarely by bacterial), the cause of such headaches is diagnosed via blood cultures, CT scan, or spinal tap, then treated accordingly.