Know Your Headache Type To Get the Right Treatment

Health Topics

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.

Headache — as the term clearly implies — involves pain or discomfort of the head, as well as around the face. But headaches aren’t that simple. They vary in location, intensity, and frequency.

And they come in three primary types — migraine, tension. and cluster — and a few other variations — such as premenstrual and sinus — each with differing treatment strategies. Some headaches occur as the result of an underlying medical condition, while others are the main problem.

Tension headaches, the most common headache type, result from stress, anxiety, depression, and muscle tension.

Migraine headaches involve moderate to severe throbbing and pulsating pain, which worsens with movement. They’re accompanied by additional symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, sensitivity to light, and other visual effects.

Unlike other types of headaches, migraines occur in phases. Two phases may precede the actual headache:

  • The premonition phase, hours or days before, presents as a change in mood or behavior
  • The aura phase, immediately before, may include vision and speech changes, hallucinations, numbness, and muscle weakness

The headache resolution phase follows the migraine headache. Some migraine sufferers feel refreshed in this phase. Others feel fatigued, irritable, and unfocused.

Headache specialist Richard Kim, MD, describes migraine headache symptoms. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Tension headaches, the most common headache type, result from stress, anxiety, depression, and muscle tension. Symptoms often include slow onset of dull, mild to moderate pain, usually on both sides of the head. In some cases, these headaches feel like a vise is being closed on the head.

Dr. Kim describes tension headaches. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Cluster headaches, which often occur in a series, lasting weeks or months, may recur every year or two. Symptoms vary person to person but often include:

  • Severe pain on one side of the head, usually behind one eye, which may appear red and watery, with a small pupil and droopy, swollen lid
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Swelling of the forehead

Dr. Kim talks about how cluster headaches are treated. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

How to Diagnose Headaches

Know Your Headache Type to Get the Right Treatment - In Content

You can help your doctor diagnose and develop a plan of treatment for your headaches by keeping a headache journal. Record details such as:

  • Time of day headaches occur
  • Intensity and duration
  • Activities leading up to headaches
  • Sensitivity to light, odors, or sound
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medicines taken
  • Amount of sleep the night before a headache
  • Stress or emotional events
  • Known health conditions
  • Weather that may have contributed
  • Foods and fluids consumed 24 hours before a headache
  • Days of menstrual cycle

“This kind of information can help you prevent and treat headaches by identifying patterns and triggers that may contribute,” said Mansi Amin, DO. “In addition, your doctor will have more data to select exams and tests to diagnose your headaches and conditions that may be contributing to them.”

Family physician Aaron Block, MD, talks about maintenance medications that can help you prevent recurring headaches. Determining what triggers your headaches will increase the chances that medications will be helpful in preventing them.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Headache Treatments

Based on the patterns, triggers, and diagnoses you and your doctor identify, treatments or management of headaches may include:

For tension headaches:

  • Lifestyle changes such as yoga and exercise to reduce stress
  • Prescription antidepressants, painkillers, or muscle relaxants to control pain
  • Biofeedback to learn relaxation techniques
  • Acupuncture to control pain

Dr. Kim talks about treatment options for tension headaches. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

For migraines:

  • Avoiding known triggers, such as lack of sleep and certain foods and beverages. Foods such as chocolate and certain cheeses, caffeine withdrawal and alcohol may trigger migraines.
  • Resting in a quiet, dark environment
  • Prescription medications to prevent migraines and stop ones that do occur
  • Vitamins, including B-12 and co-enzyme Q-10, can help prevent less frequent, milder migraines

Dr. Kim talks about treatment options for migraines.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

In the case of premenstrual headaches, hormone therapies can be prescribed to balance the natural drop in estrogen levels, which triggers these headaches.

And some headaches resulting from underlying medical conditions may call for special medical attention.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.