Different Types of Headaches

Generally speaking, all headaches involve pain in the head. But exactly where you feel it, how intense it is, how long it lasts, how often you experience it, and what makes it feel better are all important factors in determining the kinds of headaches you may be experiencing.

The more you know about what’s causing the headaches you're experiencing, the more you’ll be able to stop the pain quickly and prevent it from recurring.

At the Princeton Pain & Spine Institute in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, we specialize in stopping all kinds of pain, even headache pain. Led by Dinash Yanamadula, MD, who is an expert in pain management, physical medicine, and rehabilitation, our team can help you get to the bottom of your headaches and find the most effective treatment. 

Headaches are categorized as either primary or secondary. Here’s a breakdown of these two categories.

Primary headaches

Primary headaches are a condition in and of themselves. That means the headache is its own condition. In other words, nothing else in your body is causing the headache. The following are common types of primary headaches.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are the most common. This is the kind you get when you’ve had a stressful day or week. It’s a dull ache, not sharp, and it doesn’t throb. You may even feel sensitive in your neck and shoulders.

Tension headaches typically respond well to aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. If they become an ongoing problem, we can prescribe something stronger.


This debilitating head pain, which is felt deep inside and throbs intensely, typically manifests on one side of the head. You may have visual disturbances as well, such as flashing lights. You may be very sensitive to bright light and loud sounds during an episode. Many sufferers also experience nausea and vomiting.

Migraines sometimes respond to over-the-counter medications, but in some cases, you may need a prescription for tryptamine-based drugs. Also, learning what triggers your migraines may help you avoid getting them.

Cluster headaches

True to their name, cluster headaches occur in groups. They can each last from 15 minutes to three hours, and after the first one subsides, another one is on its heels. Some people have up to four per cluster. They can occur daily for a month and then disappear for several months and return.

The pain is sharp and searing and usually affects one side of the head or the other. Your facial features may also be affected, which may involve swelling, tearing, redness, and sweating. A prescription of sumatriptan or a local anesthetic, such as lidocaine, may be able to quell the cluster.

Secondary headaches

Secondary headaches are symptoms of other conditions. Whether you’re battling an illness or are experiencing allergies to something environmental, secondary headaches may be one of the side effects. Some of the most common are:

Sinus headaches

If you have seasonal allergies or frequent sinus infections, you may get sinus headaches that affect your forehead and face. To relieve this pain, you need to thin out the mucus in your sinuses with over-the-counter medication, such as a decongestant. If you have a sinus infection, you may need a prescribed antibiotic.

Caffeine headaches

Caffeine is a stimulant that alters the way your blood flows. Having too much in your system can give you a headache. And, suddenly quitting caffeine can do the same thing. Slowly weaning yourself off caffeine should stop these headaches.

Hormone headaches

When your hormones fluctuate, it can cause a dull headache. Women are especially susceptible, since menstruation, pregnancy, birth control pills, and menopause all affect hormone levels. Often, an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can bring relief.

Hypertension headaches

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can cause headaches that throb on both sides of your head. They usually get worse with activity, and you may also become dizzy and have vision changes, tingling, or numbness. If this happens to you, it means your blood pressure is dangerously high, and you need to seek emergency medical attention. 

Medication overuse headaches

Ironically, if you frequently use over-the-counter medications to relieve your headaches —15 days or more per month is a good indicator — the medication can have the opposite effect and become the cause of your headaches rather than the cure. Weaning yourself off these drugs is the only way to stop these headaches.

Headaches can have many other causes, from hangovers to head injuries. Some may happen occasionally, and others can be chronic. Either way, we can help you identify what type of headaches you’re dealing with so you can prevent them when possible and get the right treatment when necessary. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with Princeton Pain & Spine Institute today.

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