The 13 Types Of Headache (and Their Symptoms And Causes)

Headaches can be classified according to their warning signs.

Headache or headache is a very common problem that can become disabling if its intensity or frequency is high.

While the most common types of headaches are not due to disease and are therefore not dangerous, others are symptomatic of underlying conditions that require medical treatment.

There are more than 150 types of headaches with their own causes and symptoms. If we want to discover how we can solve our headaches, a fundamental first step is to identify what the headache we suffer from.

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What are the causes of pain?

In general, the sensation of pain is caused by lesions in tissues that fire cells known as nociceptors. These receptors pick up mechanical, thermal and chemical signals that indicate possible damage to the body.

However, neither the damage to the cells nor the reaction of the nociceptors are direct causes of the sensation of pain, but it is largely influenced by non-biological variables such as experience or emotion.

When it reaches the nervous system, nociceptive stimulation joins our thoughts, memories, and feelings before pain occurs. Thus, the final sensation depends as much on external factors as on our own mind.

Headache in particular is often influenced by factors such as muscle tension, vascular problems, or the body’s idiosyncratic response to  stress, certain substances, or  medical conditions. However, the causes and characteristics of headaches largely depend on the specific type to which we refer.

Primary headaches

According to the International Classification of Headaches, there are more than 150 types of headaches that can be divided into three main categories: primary, secondary and other headaches.

In contrast to secondary headaches, primary headaches occur in the absence of physical disorder, so they are not dangerous.

1. Tension headache

Tension-type headaches are the most common of all. These headaches are caused by muscle tension; This can be due to stress or physical causes, such as intense and continuous contraction of the muscles of the neck or jaw.

This type of headache usually manifests as constant tension or pressure on both sides of the head. In the most intense cases, even touching the affected muscles can cause pain.

Tension headaches typically cause milder pain and are therefore less disabling than migraines and other types of headaches, but there is a high risk that episodic tension headaches will become chronic, with attacks occurring all or most of the time. days.

2. Migraine

Migraines are headaches caused by the activation of neurons in the cerebral cortex. Some experts also attribute them to the narrowing of encephalic blood vessels, which would prevent blood and oxygen from reaching the brain correctly. However, the vascular hypothesis of migraine has lost support in the recent past.

This type of headache produces more severe pain than most tension headaches. Migraines usually consist of throbbing or throbbing-like sensations on one side of the head.

The stimuli that trigger migraine vary greatly depending on the person: it can be due to stress, effort, lack of sleep, intense lighting, consumption of certain foods …

We distinguish between migraines with aura and migraines without aura. Migraines without aura are the most common and appear suddenly, while migraines with aura are preceded by visual, sensory, linguistic and motor symptoms.

3. Trigeminal-autonomic headache

The trigeminal nerve receives the sensations captured by many muscles of the head, such as those of the face, eyes, mouth or jaw. Headaches that mainly involve the reflex action of the trigeminal are known as “trigeminal autonomic”. In addition, they constitute one of the most painful and difficult to manage types of headache, since they do not have to do so much with circulation as with certain alterations in the nerve.

The symptoms of this type of headache are very similar to those of migraine, so that they usually affect only one half of the head and consist of throbbing pain. However, the intensity of the pain is greater than that of migraines.

Trigeminal-autonomic headaches include syndromes such as cluster headaches, a very painful type of headache that affects the eye and temple region and is associated with symptoms such as nasal congestion, tearing, and facial sweating.

4. Cough headache

Although it is uncommon in the general population, cough headache occurs in a significant proportion of people who visit the doctor as a result of severe coughing.

Some common symptoms of cough headache are nausea, vertigo, and sleep disturbances. These headaches are triggered after coughing fits and can be very brief or last more than an hour.

5. By physical effort

Those in which the symptoms are not due to any intracranial cause, but simply to the practice of very intense exercise, are classified as “physical exertion headaches” . The abnormal flow of blood can cause parts of the nervous system to suffer

It occurs more frequently in places where it is very hot or at a high altitude, and the pain it involves is usually throbbing.

On the other hand, performing a task that requires constant effort of the same type can cause this symptom to appear, which is a way of warning that we should stop as soon as possible.

6. By sexual relationship

Primary headache associated with sexual activity is attributed to loss of cerebrospinal fluid causing a drop in intracranial pressure. The pain occurs on both sides of the head and intensifies as the person becomes aroused, reaching its peak when she reaches orgasm.

It is a problem that has to do with managing attention, difficulties in relaxing, and making continuous physical efforts.

7. By cryostimulus

“Cryostimulus headache” is the official name of the classic headache produced by contact with something very cold, either because it touches the outside of the head, because it is inhaled or because it is ingested, as happens with ice cream. Cryostimulus headache pain tends to be stabbing, unilateral, and short-lived.

8. Hypnic headache

Wake-up headaches appear only during sleep, causing the person to wake up. It normally affects people over 50 and tends to be persistent. They share some characteristics with migraine headaches, such as a feeling of nausea.

Secondary headaches

Secondary headaches are the result of conditions, such as vascular disorders or brain injuries, that are symptomatic of pain and may require specific treatment depending on the underlying cause.

1. By trauma

Blows to the skull or neck, such as those caused by traffic accidents, can cause temporary or chronic headaches (if they last more than three months after the trauma).

Not only can blows cause traumatic headaches, but these can also be due to other causes, such as explosions and foreign bodies in the head.

In general, these headaches appear together with other symptoms caused by the same trauma, such as problems with concentration or memory, dizziness and fatigue.

2. By vascular disorder

This type of headache is the result of cerebrovascular problems such as ischemic stroke, cerebral hemorrhage ,  aneurysm or congenital arteriovenous malformation. In these cases, the headache is usually less relevant than other consequences of the vascular accident.

3. Due to substance use or withdrawal

The abusive use or inhalation of substances such as alcohol, cocaine, carbon monoxide or nitric oxide can also cause and aggravate headaches. Likewise, the suppression of substances that are consumed on a regular basis, such as alcohol and drugs, is another frequent cause of headache.

4. By infection

Some common causes of this type of headache are bacterial or viral meningitis and encephalitis, parasitic infections, and systemic infections. Although in most cases the headache disappears once the infection is cured, on some occasions it may persist.

5. By mental disorder

Headaches are sometimes categorized as secondary to psychiatric disorders if there is a temporal and causal relationship between the two phenomena. However, in these cases the pain seems to have a psychogenic rather than a biological origin.

In this sense, the International Classification of Headaches gives special importance to psychotic disorders and somatization, consisting of the presence of physical symptoms in the absence of identifiable medical pathology.


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