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Types of Headaches and Tests to Diagnose Them

A headache is a frequent ailment characterized by pain and discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck. Headaches can be moderate at times, but they can also be severe, making it difficult to focus at work and carry out other everyday activities. Though the majority of headaches aren't significant and may be treated at home, persistent headaches should be reported to a medical professional for further examination.


What are the types of headaches?


There are around 150 different forms of headaches. Primary and secondary headaches are the two types of headaches.


Primary Headache


A primary headache is not a symptom of a serious condition. Primary headaches can be caused by chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull, or the muscles in your head and neck (or a combination of these factors). Some people may also have genes that make them more susceptible to migraines.


Here are types of primary headache:


  • Cluster headaches
  • Migraine
  • New daily persistent headaches (NDPH)
  • Tension headaches


Cluster Headaches


Cluster headaches are one of the most excruciating types of headaches, as they occur in cyclical patterns or cluster periods. A cluster headache is characterized by severe pain in or around one eye on one side of the head that wakes you up in the middle of the night.


Cluster episodes, which last from weeks to months, are frequently followed by remission periods, during which the headaches stop. For months, if not years, there are no headaches during remission.




A headache of fluctuating intensity that is frequently accompanied by nausea and light and sound sensitivity. Migraine headaches can be preceded by warning signs and symptoms. Hormonal changes, particular foods and drinks, stress, and exercise are all triggers.


Migraine headaches can induce throbbing in one location that might be mild to severe. Nausea, as well as sensitivity to light and sound, are common side effects. Migraine headaches can be managed with preventive and pain-relieving medicines.


What are the symptoms of migraine?


Migraines can go through four stages: prodrome, aura, attack, and post-drome, and they can afflict toddlers and teenagers as well as adults. However, not everyone who suffers from migraines progresses through all of the stages.




Following are the symptoms that appear one or two days before migraine’s onset:


  • Constipation
  • Mood changes, from depression to euphoria
  • Food cravings
  • Neck stiffness
  • Increased urination
  • Fluid retentionFrequent yawning



Aura migraine can have following symptoms:


  • Vision loss
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body or in the face
  • Visual phenomena



You may have following symptoms during migraine:


  • Pain on one side of your head is common, but it can also occur on both sides.
  • Throbbing or pulsed pain.
  • Light, sound, and sometimes smell and touch sensitivity.
  • Nausea and vomiting


If you regularly have signs and symptoms of Migraine, keep a record your attacks and how you treated them. Then make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your headaches.


Tension Headaches


Tension headaches are caused by strained or contracted neck and scalp muscles. Muscle contractions might occur as a result of stress, depression, a concussion, or worry. They can affect anyone at any age, but they are more common in adults and older teenagers.


New daily persistent headaches (NDPH)


NDPH is a primary headache disorder, which implies it is caused by anything other than a medical illness. It's uncommon, yet it can be debilitating. The victim usually remembers the exact date or commencement of the first headache, which is a distinctive feature of the illness.


Some lifestyle conditions might cause primary headaches, including:


  • Alcohol, particularly red wine
  • Certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates
  • Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
  • Poor posture
  • Skipped meals
  • Stress


Secondary Headache


Headaches caused by an underlying medical condition, such as a neck injury or a sinus infection, are known as secondary headaches. A subsequent headache may be a sign of a dangerous underlying medical problem, such as encephalitis or an abscess in the brain.


What are the tests for diagnosing headaches?


Following are the tests performed by doctors for diagnosing headaches:


  • CT scan: This is a test that uses X-rays and computers to create a cross-sectional image of the body. If you have daily or virtually daily headaches, a CT scan of the head may be indicated to rule out other diseases.
  • MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging): If you have headaches on a daily or near-daily basis, an MRI may be indicated. It may also be indicated if the results of a CT scan are inconclusive. Furthermore, an MRI scan is used to examine regions of the brain that are difficult to see on a CT scan, such as the spine at the level of the neck and the rear portion of the brain.
  • EEG (electroencephalogram): Although an electroencephalogram is not a regular element of a headache evaluation, it may be done if your doctor suspects you're having seizures.


Although occasional headaches are common, people who suffer from severe or recurrent headaches should seek medical advice for the best prevention and treatment options.


Dr. Varun Kataria
Meet The Doctor
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