Headaches can be disturbing, especially if their cause is unknown. But, they are also very common, occurring in about 50 percent of adults. There are two types of headaches, primary and secondary types, and both types can have different symptoms.

But they can also have similar symptoms, making them difficult to distinguish from one another. A perfect example is a headache on the left side of the head. This can be the result of a migraine, cluster headache, or even a tension-type headache, and can be a primary or a secondary headache.

Why Do I Have a Headache on the Left Side of My Head?


A serious condition does not cause primary headaches. In fact, in most cases, a left-sided headache is caused by a migraine, the symptoms of which can be debilitating and can include:

  • Excruciating pain on the left (or right) side of the head
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sensitivity to sound (phonophobia)
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Sensitivity to smell
  • Throbbing, stabbing, pounding, or pulsating pain that is often exacerbated by movement
  • Pain that lasts between six to 72 hours, or sometimes longer

The symptoms of a migraine can be so intense that the sufferer wants nothing more than to go into a dark room and lie down without moving. Migraines are usually triggered by a sound, smell, or food, and can even be triggered by certain types of light such as fluorescent lighting. Stress and hormonal changes can also be triggers for migraine headaches.

Migraines are usually resolved with rest in a dark room or over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen. Prescription medications like Imitrex may be necessary in some cases to provide relief. A migraine diary can be helpful to track symptoms and aid in identifying possible triggers. Frequent migraine headaches or migraines that do not respond to treatment may need the help of an expert migraine clinic for proper treatment.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are more common than migraines and typically affect women more often than men. They can also cause left-sided head pain, but more frequently involve the entire head as well as behind the eyes. Most people who suffer from tension headaches describe the pain as a pressure sensation or a feeling of a vise-like grip on their head that gets worse as the day progresses or starts in the afternoon. Tension headaches can be associated with neck and shoulder pain as well as light sensitivity, blurred vision, and nausea.

Tension headaches can be caused by a variety of muscular problems including neck injuries, stress, and tight muscles in the neck and shoulders, as well as poor posture or sleeping in a way that causes neck pain. Tension headache treatment involves relieving the underlying cause, for example, ibuprofen for inflammation of the muscles in the neck.

Cluster Headaches

Like migraines, cluster headaches typically occur on one side of the head and occur in clusters as their name suggests. Pain is usually severe, and headaches can last days to weeks and is typically located behind one eye. Cluster headaches typically wake the sufferer during their sleep cycle and can cause tearing, redness, and congestion of the eye affected. Redness and swelling of the face surrounding the eye, drooping of the eyelid, or constriction of one pupil may also be associated with a cluster headache.

Cluster headaches can last between 15 minutes and three hours a day and can continue for six to 12 weeks before going into a period of remission that can last six months to one year, but these headaches can also be chronic with no remission period.

Often times a headache treatment clinic is necessary to help determine the cause and treatment of cluster headaches. Over-the-counter medications can be helpful, but in most cases, the headaches are usually over before medications can be effective.

Other Causes of Left-Sided Headaches

Headaches on the left side of the head can also be secondary to other underlying issues such as:

Strokes and brain tumors can also be a cause of a left-sided headache. However, a headache caused by a brain tumor or stroke is often associated with double vision, weakness on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, and other neurological symptoms.

Do you have frequent left-side headaches? Contact the National Headache Institute for more information on chronic headache treatments like our state-of-the-art stem cell treatment. We have several locations for your convenience, so contact us today to schedule your first appointment.

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