• Atoosa H. Bigvand

Headache: Signs and Symptoms

Headache is a painful sensation in any part of the head, ranging from sharp to dull, that may occur with other symptoms. The lifelong prevalence of headaches is 96%, with a female predominance. The global active prevalence of tension-type headache is approximately 40% and migraine at 10%.

The age range for migraine is approximately 25 to 55 years old. Primary headaches are all those that are not due to another disease. The four types of primary headaches are migraines, tension headaches, Trigeminal Autonomic Cephalalgias, and others listed below. Secondary headaches are symptoms of another disease. Such information indicates that any type of headache must be taken seriously and individuals should seek medical attention to know the root cause of it.

Some primary headaches can be triggered by lifestyle factors, including:

  1. Alcohol, particularly red wine

  2. Certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates

  3. Changes in sleep or lack of sleep

  4. Poor posture

  5. Skipped meals

  6. Stress

Possible causes of secondary headaches include:

  1. Acute sinusitis (nasal and sinus infection)

  2. Arterial tears (carotid or vertebral dissections)

  3. Blood clot (venous thrombosis) within the brain — separate from stroke

  4. Brain aneurysm

  5. Brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation)

  6. Brain tumor

  7. Carbon monoxide poisoning

  8. Chiari malformation (structural problem at the base of the skull)

  9. Concussion

  10. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

  11. Dehydration

  12. Dental problems

  13. Ear infection (middle ear)

  14. Encephalitis (brain inflammation)

  15. Giant cell arteritis (inflammation of the lining of the arteries)

  16. Glaucoma (acute angle-closure glaucoma)

  17. Hangovers

  18. High blood pressure (hypertension)

  19. Influenza (flu) and other febrile (fever) illnesses

  20. Intracranial hematoma

  21. Medications to treat other disorders

  22. Meningitis

  23. Stroke

Some types of secondary headaches (commonly called brain freeze) include:

  1. Medication overuse headaches (caused by overuse of pain medication)

  2. Sinus headaches (caused by inflammation and congestion in sinus cavities)

  3. Spinal headaches (caused by low pressure or volume of cerebrospinal fluid, possibly the result of spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak, spinal tap, or spinal anesthesia)

  4. Thunderclap headaches (a group of disorders that involves sudden, severe headaches with multiple causes)

A migraine is a type of headache characterized by attacks that last 4–72 hours each. The pain is of a stabbing, often pulsatile character and is associated with vegetative symptoms such as nausea, as well as oversensitivity to light and noise.

Cluster headaches are the most common kind of migraine, affecting an estimated 0.1% of the population. Cluster headache is most effectively treated through an oral route, injections, or intranasal route (nasal inhalation) because the attacks are so brief.

Individuals should seek immediate medical attention if they’re experiencing the worst headache they’ve ever had, lose vision or consciousness, have uncontrollable vomiting, or if the headache lasts more than 72 hours with less than 4 hours without pain.

This classification of headaches is based on a distinction between primary and secondary headaches. The most common primary headache types are tension-type headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. The application of uniform diagnostic concepts is essential to arrive at the most appropriate treatment for the various types of headaches.


Speaking Plainly:

  • Headaches can be classified into two main primary and secondary groups.

  • There are different risk factors for headaches and require an appropriate diagnosis based on the clinical manifestation and professional examinations.

  • The intervention depends on the cause and the diagnosis. This can be oral medications, injections, oxygen therapy through the nose, and other therapies such as occipital nerve stimulation and deep brain stimulation.

  • These interventions are the major focus of research and require more investigation. Also, improving lifestyle habits such as sticking to a regular sleep schedule and consuming less alcohol are other forms of headache mitigation.