Types of Headache

Primary Headache

Primary headache is a headache not caused by another medical condition. Neurological examination, results of CT, MRI and other tests are usually normal (1). Your doctor can make a diagnosis on the basis of your personal medical history and physical examination. Primary headaches include (2):

1. Migraine


  • Aura (for example, flashing lights) within 1 hour before a headache onset. Often there is no aura.
  • Pounding, throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head (sometimes on both sides), lasting from 4 to 72 hours.

2. Tension Headache


  • Pressure-like pain, usually on both sides. Pain can last from 30 minutes to 7 days, usually several hours.

3. Cluster Headache

Symptoms (1):

  • Severe, knife-like, steady, one-sided pain around the eye or temple, lasting from 15 to 180 minutes, usually 30-45 minutes.

4. Other Trigeminal Autonomic Cephalalgias*

* Cephalalgia is a Greek term for headache. Besides a cluster headache, the following one-sided headaches arise in the Trigeminal nerve (responsible for the sensitivity of the face, mouth and nasal mucosa, ear and eye), (1):

  • CPH (Chronic Paroxismal Hemicrania); symptoms usually last from 2 to 20 minutes
  • SUNCT (Short-lasting, Unilateral, Neuralgiform headache with Conjunctival injection, Tearing, sweating and rhinorrhea); symptoms last from 15 to 60 seconds and may appear several times in an hour
  • LASH (Long-lasting Autonomic Symptoms with Hemicrania), symptoms resemble migraine, but are relieved by different drugs

5. Other Primary Headaches

Other types of headache, triggered by a certain activity, but not caused by another medical condition (2):

  • Primary stabbing headache
  • Primary cough headache
  • Primary exertional headache
  • Primary headache related to sexual activity
  • Hypnic headache, which awakens you from sleep
  • Hemicrania continua; one-sided pain lasting for more than 3 months without pain free periods
  • Primary thunderclap headache
  • New daily persistent headache (NDPH); chronic headache with acute onset

Secondary Headache

Secondary headache results from a more or less obvious medical condition, like:

  • Head/neck injury
  • Blood vessel disorders on the head or in the neck
  • Headache caused by a disorder of the skull, facial bones, eyes, ears, nose, sinuses, teeth, mouth
  • Disorders within the head (intracranial disorders)
  • Substance use or withdrawal
  • Infection
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Headache in psychiatric disorders

A cause of secondary headache can be usually determined from a patient’s history, or by investigations, like CT, MRI, blood or urine test, and so on. Detailed description of secondary headaches.

Cranial Neuralgia and Central Causes of Facial Pain

Cranial neuralgia is an intense, electro-shock-like pain, affecting the area innervated by a particular cranial nerve. Examples:

  • Trigeminal neuralgia is a shooting pain in the face
  • Glossopharyngeal neuralgia is a shooting pain in the ear or throat, triggered by swallowing,
  • Occipital neuralgia: constant or shooting pain on the back of the head
  • Pain related to Herpes zoster
  • Burning mouth syndrome
  • Headache triggered by cold stimuli

Related Articles:


  1. Types of headache  (clevelandclinicmeded.com)
  2. Types of headache  (healthline.com)
  3. Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia  (bmj.com)
About Jan Modric (209 Articles)
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