Headaches are broken into two different categories. Primary headaches are not connected to other conditions. Migraine, tension and cluster headaches are examples of this type. Secondary headaches result from related and potentially fatal diseases and conditions, including brain tumors, strokes and meningitis.


Tension headaches, the most common type of primary headaches, are usually mild and begin in the upper neck and back of the head. Pain and pressure is felt all around the head, with the most severe pain coming just above the eyebrows.

Migraines refer to a deep pounding or throbbing pain around the temples, eyes or forehead, likely to be on only one side of the head. Severe migraines can lead to nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound, with occurrences lasting as little as four hours to as many as three days. The onset of a migraine may be preceded by blurred vision, irritability, fatigue, depression, or euphoria.

Cluster headaches can be debilitating. They come in intense periods of weeks or months and are felt directly behind the eyes. The pain is described as sharp and steady and can last 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Who is at Risk?

Tension headaches are caused by muscle contractions brought on by a variety of factors, especially stress, anxiety and depression. Other variables include excessive alcohol, caffeine or tobacco use, cold or flu, nasal or sinus congestion and strained eyes. Risk factors for migraines include family history, age, gender (women are more likely to be migraine sufferers) and hormonal variations. Women are also more likely to suffer tension headaches than men. While cluster headaches affect only a small percentage of the population, most cluster-headache sufferers are men, and smoking, alcohol use and specific foods can trigger a cluster headache.

Treatment of Headaches

Most tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen. Reducing stress or changing some of your daily habits can help reduce the number of incidences. If migraines are not eased by over-the-counter medicines, your doctor might suggest different prescription medications. If you feel a migraine coming on, rest in a quiet darkened room, stay hydrated, and put a cool cloth on your head. Treating a cluster headache can be a complex process, so consult your doctor for more information.

Emergency Warning Signs

A severe, persistent headache may be a symptom of a serious disease or condition, so see a doctor if symptoms don’t subside within a few days.