Identify the Pain in Your Head: The 5 Kinds of Headaches


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The type of pain you are experiencing determines the treatment you need.
(ISTOCKPHOTO/HEALTH)
It's critical to identify which type of headache you suffer from—tension, cluster, sinus, rebound, or migraine—so that the correct treatment can be prescribed. In one 2004 study, 80% of patients with a recent history of self-described or doctor-diagnosed sinus headache—but none of the signs of sinus infection—actually met the criteria for migraine. And two-thirds of those patients expressed dissatisfaction with the medications they were using to treat their headaches. Here's a cheat sheet to help you put a name to your pain.

Take the Migraine Quiz: Find out what really triggers that debilitating pain in your head.

Tension headaches
Tension headaches, the most common type, feel like a constant ache or pressure around the head, especially at the temples or back of the head and neck. Not as severe as migraines, they are not usually accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and they rarely stop someone from continuing their regular activities. Over-the-counter treatments, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen (Tylenol), are usually sufficient to treat tension headaches, which experts believe may be caused by contraction of neck and scalp muscles (including in response to stress), and possibly changes in brain chemicals.

Take the Migraine Quiz
migraine-quiz
What really triggers that debilitating pain in your head?  Read more
Cluster headaches
Cluster headaches, which affect men more often than women, are recurring headaches that occur in groups or cycles. The headaches appear suddenly and are characterized by severe, debilitating pain on one side of the head often accompanied by a watery eye and nasal congestion or a runny nose on the same side of the face. During an attack, sufferers are often restless and unable to get comfortable and not likely to lay down the way someone with a migraine usually does. The cause of cluster headaches is unknown, but they may have some genetic component. There is no cure, but medications can reduce the frequency and duration of attacks.

Sinus headaches
When a sinus becomes inflamed, usually through an infection, it can cause pain. It usually comes with a fever, and can—if necessary—be diagnosed by MRI or CT scan (which can both detect changes in fluid levels), or by the presence of pus viewed through a fiber-optic scope. Headaches due to sinus infection can be treated with antibiotics, as well as antihistamines or decongestants.

Take the Migraine Quiz: Find out what really triggers that debilitating pain in your head.


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Last Updated: May 10, 2008

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