More than 45 million Americans experience a recurring headache every year. About 90 percent of all headaches are primary headaches. There are three types of primary headache: tension, cluster and migraine.
The most common type of primary headache is tension headache. About 75 to 90 percent of people with headaches suffer from a tension headache. Tension headaches are characterized by a dull, steady ache that occurs in more than one area of the head, scalp, or neck. They tend to occur to both sides of your head. Tension headaches can occur constantly or as an isolated incident. The pain usually increases over several hours. At its worst, the pain has a pulsating quality. A person with a tension headache will also feel pressure or tightness around the head. A person with a tension headache will also have difficulty sleeping.
Tension headaches result from tight, contracted muscles in your neck, shoulders, scalp, or jaw. These contracted muscles can be a result of stress, fatigue, depression, noise, or anxiety. Overexerting yourself, not getting enough sleep, or skipping meals can increase your chances of getting a tension headache. Any activity that requires you to hold your head still for a long time such as typing or using a microscope or sleeping with your neck in an abnormal position may also trigger a tension headache. Other causes include alcohol use, excessive smoking, sinus infection, nasal congestion and colds. A woman is more likely than a man to get a tension headache. A tension headache most commonly occurs to adults and adolescents. Tension headaches can also occur when a person has a migraine headache.
Cluster headaches are far less common than tension headaches. A cluster headache begins very suddenly and most commonly 2 to 3 hours after falling asleep. They are sharp, extremely painful headaches that tend to occur several times per day over a period of weeks or months and then go away. They may recur during the following year. The pain quickly reaches its peak within 5 to 10 minutes. These headaches can last from 30 minutes to 2 hours. The pain of cluster headaches almost always affects only one side of the head and may occur in and around one eye. It may also affect one side of the face from the neck to the temples. You should not lie down because that often makes the pain worse. There are other symptoms that may result from a cluster headache including swelling around the eyes, excessive tears, red eye and nasal stuffiness. These symptoms appear primarily on the same side as the head pain.
Men are more likely than women to get cluster headaches. Cluster headaches most commonly occur to people between adolescence and middle age. The development of cluster headaches does not seem to be hereditary. But it appears to be related to a release of histamine or serotonin by body tissues. People who smoke or drink alcohol excessively are more likely to get a cluster headache. Stress or certain foods may also trigger a cluster headache.
Migraine headaches can be dull or severe. The pain can be throbbing or pulsating and tends to be worse on one side of the head. Migraine headaches can last from 6 to 48 hours. Some symptoms that you should expect to see from a migraine headache sufferer include nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, loss of appetite and fatigue. There are two types of migraines: with aura and without aura. An aura is a visual disturbance such as brightly colored lights, stars, or zigzag lines. If a person has a migraine headache with aura, an aura will appear before the onset of the migraine headache. Migraine headaches tend to occur to people between the ages of 10 and 46. Unlike cluster headaches, women are more likely than men to get migraine headaches. But pregnancy does reduce the number of migraine headaches. About 60 percent of pregnant women get less migraine headaches during their last two trimesters. Many things can trigger a migraine headache such as allergic reactions, physical or emotional stress, alcohol use, skipping meals, excessive smoking, tension headaches, or changes in your menstrual cycle.