Different Types of Primary Headaches


Primary headaches include migraines, ​tension-type headaches, and cluster headaches. An important cause of primary headaches, a Migraine is an episodic, disabling headache that can last between a few hours and a few days. Most headaches aren’t the result of a serious illness, but some may result from a life-threatening condition requiring emergency care. A primary headache is caused by overactivity of or problems with pain-sensitive structures in your head. A primary headache isn’t a symptom of an underlying disease. Chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull, or the muscles of your head and neck (or some combination of these factors) can play a role in primary headaches. Some people may also carry genes that make them more likely to develop such headaches.

Headache Types

Types of Primary Headache

Migraine: Migraine is more common among women, with headache episodes occurring more frequently during the premenstrual period, as a result of changes in oestrogen hormone levels during the menstrual cycle. Premenstrual migraines occur during or after the time when the female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, decrease to their lowest levels.

Symptoms of migraine include:

  • Intense throbbing and pulsating pain
  • Unilateral pain that begins or remains on just one side of the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to stimuli such as lights, sounds and smells
  • May be aggravated by physical activities, especially coughing or bending over
  • May be preceded by flashing lights
  • May be associated with visual symptoms, such as seeing zigzag lines
  • Tingling, numb or cold limbs

Tension headache: This is the most common type of primary headache, occurring in up to 90 per cent of adults in their lifetime.
The exact cause of a tension headache is not known, although physical and emotional stress can cause the muscles that cover the skull to contract and cause pain.
Tension headaches are more common among women than men, especially among those with high-stress levels.

Symptoms of a tension headache include:

  • Pain that feels like a tight band pressing around the head, with the most intense pressure over the eyebrows
  • Pain is usually mild, dull and steady, not throbbing or disabling, and bilateral (affecting both sides of the head)
  • No nausea or vomiting associated with the headache
  • Occurs sporadically (infrequently and without a pattern), but can also occur frequently or even daily.

Cluster headache: A rare type of primary headache (about 0.1 per cent incidence) more common among men in their late 20s, although cluster headaches can also occur among women and children.

Symptoms of a cluster headache include:

  • Headache attack often wakes patient from sleep at a similar time every night
  • Pain always occurs on the same side, usually over one eye, which causes tearing and redness of the eye.


These headaches have distinct features, such as an unusual duration or pain associated with a certain activity.
Although generally considered primary, each could be a symptom of an underlying disease. They include:

  • Chronic daily headaches (for example, chronic migraine, chronic tension-type headache, or hemicranias continua)
  • Cough headaches
  • Exercise headaches
  • Sex headaches

Some primary headaches can be triggered by lifestyle factors, 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

A headache can affect any part of the head, and pain may be present in one or several locations. Headaches can cause various types of pain, and classifying the pain can help a doctor reach a diagnosis. Doctors also categorise headaches based on whether an underlying health condition is responsible for the pain.


Primary headache symptoms occur independently, not as the result of another medical issue. While some symptoms of primary headache disorders differ depending on the type, many overlaps. Symptoms can range from throbbing head pain and vision changes to nausea, light sensitivity, and more.

Symptoms of Migraine include:

  • Throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head (unilateral)
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Increased sensitivity to light, sound, and odours.

Symptoms of tension-type headaches include:

  • Mild or moderate pain on both sides of your head that feels like you have a band around your head
  • Pain that radiates to the neck
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Symptoms of cluster headaches include:

  • Unilateral pain in the head that can be around or behind one eye
  • Red or swollen eye or nose on that affected side
  • Agitation
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, and smell

Treatment for Headaches

Rest and pain relief medication are the main treatments for headaches. Options include

  • over-the-counter pain relief medications, such as non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • prescription pain relief medications
  • preventive medication for specific conditions, such as migraine
  • other treatments for underlying conditions

To prevent medication overuse headaches, it is crucial to follow a doctor’s guidance. Treating medication overuse headaches involves reducing or stopping the medication. A doctor can help develop a plan to ease off the medication safely. In extreme cases, a person may need a short hospital stay to manage withdrawal safely and effectively.

In most cases, episodic headaches will go away within 48 hours. If you have a Headache that lasts more than two days or that increases in intensity, you should see your Neurologist for assistance. If you’re getting headaches more than 15 days out of the month over three months, you might have a chronic headache condition. Headaches can be a symptom of more serious health conditions, and some do require treatment beyond OTC medications and home remedies.

Several alternative forms of headache treatment are available, but it is important to consult a doctor before making any major changes or beginning any new treatments. For your further doubts, you can contact Medisys Hospital, a growing super speciality hospital in Hyderabad. The Neurology Department rectifies even your small doubts that arise in your mind about these Primary migraines.


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