What Kind of Headache Do I Have?


Are you unsure about your headache, and have asked yourself this question at some point? You are not alone. According to the World Health Organization, about 50% of adults around the world have a headache disorder. 

Headaches are a pain in any part of your head. The pain varies in location, intensity, and form. A headache may:

  • Be isolated to one location
  • Occur on one or both sides of the head
  • Have a squeezing or viselike quality
  • Appear as a dull ache, a sharp pain, or a throbbing sensation
  • Radiate from one point on the head

Headaches may come out of the blue or develop gradually over time. They can persist for less than an hour to a couple of days.

This article will go over the different types of headaches and the symptoms of each. 

Types of Headaches

Headaches have two types primary and secondary headaches, and the classification of each type depends on the source of the head pain.

Primary headaches

They are due to pure head pain, not any underlying disorder. Primary headaches can happen because of the overactivity of the pain-sensitive parts in the head. Another cause is a chemical activity in the blood vessels, brain, muscles, and nerves nearby the head and neck. In some cases, the combination of these occurs, leading to headaches. Genetics also play a role as some people have gene components that make them more at risk of developing headaches. 

The main forms of primary headaches:

  • Tension headaches
  • Migraines
  • Cluster headaches
  • Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias

The headaches listed above are some of the common ones. However, there are lesser-known headaches that we can also consider as primary headaches. They have unique features and can last a bizarre length of time. They may also be due to an underlying problem.

  • Chronic daily headaches 
  • Exercise headaches
  • Cough headaches
  • Sex headaches
  • Chronic daily headaches

Particular lifestyle and habits are triggers to primary headaches, including:

  • Poor posture
  • Lack of sleep or changes in sleep patterns
  • Alcohol or red wine
  • Skipping meals
  • Stress
  • Certain foods and food additives such as chocolate, processed meats, aspartame, and MSG

Secondary headaches

On the other hand, secondary headaches stem from an underlying illness that initiates the pain-sensitive nerves in the head to act up. There is a long list of things or conditions that bring about secondary headaches. Here are some of them:

  • Dehydration
  • Certain medications
  • Panic attacks or disorders
  • Sinus infection
  • Ear infection
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Dental problems
  • Concussion
  • High blood pressure
  • Influenza
  • Pressure from headgear
  • Hangovers
  • Overuse of pain relievers
  • Brain tumor
  • Stroke
  • Meningitis
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Post-concussion syndrome
  • Glaucoma 
  • Encephalitis
  • Giant cell arteritis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Intracranial hematoma
  • Chiari malformation – a structural issue at the base of the skull
  • Venous thrombosis – blood clot of a vein in the brain
  • Brain aneurysm – a bulge or ballooning in the blood vessel in the brain
  • Arterial dissection – tear in the lining of the artery in the head 
  • Brain AVM – an unusual formation of brain blood vessels
  • Trigeminal neuralgia and other neuralgias that involve the facial and brain nerves 
  • Pseudotumor cerebri or idiopathic intracranial hypertension – increased pressure in the skull 

The main forms of secondary headaches:

  • Rebound headaches – due to overuse of pain relievers 
  • Ice cream headaches – also called brain freeze
  • External compression headaches – due to the heavy weight on the head from headgear
  • Spinal headaches – due to a low volume of cerebrospinal fluid
  • Thunderclap headaches – a group of conditions that involve unexpected, intense headaches with various causes

SNOOP Criteria for Headache Warning Signs

The American Headache Society advised patients and medical practitioners to use the acronym SNOOP to help on figuring out if a headache is primary or secondary. This is important to catch the existence of underlying severe conditions early on. 

S systemic signs and symptoms: Weight loss, abnormal blood tests, fever, history of cancer, etc.

N neurological symptoms: Dizziness, abnormal speech, confusion, abnormal gait, etc. 

O onset: If the headache begins suddenly, it may be due to a bleed or aneurysm. In short, a secondary headache. If it occurs under two weeks, a disease like meningitis can be the culprit. If it comes on longer than six months, it is likely a benign headache and should not be a cause of concern.

O onset of age: If the onset occurs under age 5 or over age 50, it is not a secondary headache. Adults over 50 may need an MRI of the brain.

P progression: Headaches that get even worse over time should be examined by a medical professional. Even if you already get migraines, you can still have a tumor or aneurysm.

Natural Care for Any Headache Type

Certainly, headaches are no fun no matter what the type. The root cause can be a problem just at the base of the skull. If either of the C1 or C2 vertebra of your neck gets misaligned, it can result in the onset of primary or secondary headaches. 

Different things can happen within the central nervous system if there is a misalignment in the topmost bones in the neck. The brainstem may suffer from pressure, resulting in incorrect messages reaching the brain. The bones may also block the flow of cerebrospinal fluid and blood in the brain. 

Upper cervical chiropractic uses a low-impact technique to realign the bones safely and naturally. Most of the time, it is all that is required to relieve patients from the pain of primary and secondary headaches.

You can use the search function in this site to browse for upper cervical chiropractors in your area. Many of them offer an obligation-free consultation for patients.

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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.