What Kind of Headache Do I Have?

“What kind of headache do I have?”

If you’ve ever found yourself asking this question, you aren’t alone. There are actually many different kinds of headaches. Knowing which type you have is an important step forward to getting an accurate diagnosis. That leads to the right treatment and long-lasting relief.

Here’s how to tell what kind of headache you have:

Tension Headache

Tension headaches are caused by physical tension – including contractions of muscles in the head and neck area – which can also be accompanied by restricted blood flow in those areas. The pain can be triggered by high-stress situations that cause muscles to become tense. For some people, behavioral habits unrelated to stress can also cause these headaches, such as long periods of computer time.

The pain from this headache tends to present as a “band” around the head, approximately where you would expect a sweatband to sit. However, some people suffer from tension headaches that focus on one or both temples or even the top of the head. The neck also frequently hurts.

In the most severe cases, painful muscle spasms may occur.

Migraine Headache

Migraine headaches can arise from a wide variety of structural issues in the body. Problems with blood vessels in the head and neck, as well as neurological concerns and genetic factors can all contribute. Migraines typically present themselves with characteristic visual “auras,” which may start to appear minutes or even hours before the pain sets in.
Migraine headaches have a wide range of potential triggers, and the stimuli that trigger them does not necessarily tell you much about their actual cause. However, if you experience frequent headaches with visual distortion, you might have migraines.

Caffeine Headache

As the name suggests, caffeine headaches are caused principally by the use of stimulants. As a key part of coffee, caffeine is the most common culprit. Caffeine serves as a vasoconstrictor, meaning it causes blood vessels to contract. This effect is particularly noticeable in the cerebral blood vessels, which makes a headache much more likely.

Interestingly enough, the body can sometimes compensate for this vasoconstrictive effect over time, allowing people who frequently drink caffeinated soda, tea, or coffee to experience fewer headaches. Still, this doesn’t happen in all cases. Especially when combined with other systemic issues such as stress or high blood pressure, these headaches can become unbearable.

All caffeine migraine headaches have to do with some form of stimulant, so coffee is by far the most common risk factor. If you take stimulating medication for specific health conditions, including ADHD or narcolepsy, you might also experience these headaches. If this describes you, it may be a good idea to discuss your dosage with a physician. Just don’t change medications without a doctor’s advice!

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are incredibly intense and present a piercing or burning sensation centered behind or around one eye. The pain can be ongoing, or it may pulse. It is one of the most severe types of headaches one can experience besides extreme migraines.

Because pain is overwhelming, many people suffering from cluster headaches find they cannot sit still or concentrate during an episode. The affected eyeball often shows symptoms like a noticeable lowering of the eye’s lid, discoloration and tearing which may lead some to suspect a stroke.

Cluster headaches occur in sets that may be only a few hours apart. They last anywhere from fifteen minutes to several hours each and can even disrupt sleep. Between clusters, a patient may go weeks, months, or even years without experiencing symptoms.

Unlike many other types of headaches, cluster headaches are more common in men than women.

Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches are closely associated with allergies, especially seasonal allergies from pollen and other airborne irritants. Continuous pain, usually accompanied by sinus pressure, can be felt in the forehead, the bridge of the nose, or even the cheeks. Sinus inflammation causes this type of headache, so attacks can sometimes be avoided by reducing exposure to allergens.

A “true” sinus headache is brought on by a sinus infection, which people are more vulnerable to when suffering from allergy symptoms. When a sinus infection is present, drainage from the nose will usually be green or yellow rather than clear. Recurrent infections point to an underlying problem that should be addressed with the help of your doctor.

How do you know what type of headache you have? The National Headache Institute can help you find out. With three locations in Miami, Houston and New Jersey, our headache clinic is the only facility wholly dedicated to diagnosis and treatment of headaches using the latest research, technology and techniques – many of them pioneered by our own clinicians.

To find out more, contact us today. We look forward to helping you find lasting headache relief!

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