What causes different kinds of headaches? And should they be treated differently?

Image via iStock.

Yes, there are different types of headaches that can indicated different things. Do you feel it behind your eyes? Or on one side of your head? Or is the pain at the base of your skull?

Paying attention to what headache symptoms you have can help you to figure out what kind of treatment is best because different headaches are caused by different factors. Here’s to recognise them.

Tension headaches.

Tension headaches often feel a bit like a tight band around your head, an ache behind your eyes, or pain at the base of your skull at the back of your head. They are the most common of the various headache types, and are usually caused by muscle strain from the upper back, neck and head.

Dr Jerome Dixon, who specialises in treating headaches, tells me that another cause for tension headaches can be stress, because the muscular contractions in the head, face and neck regions are often due to stress and anxiety. Tightness in the neck and jaw regions can also be due to stress.

“One of the most common ways to treat tension headaches is to be aware of your lifestyle, things like having a bad desk or posture at work, squinting, hunching and clenching your jaw can cause tension headaches.” Dr Dixon says. (Post continues after gallery.)

 Migraine headaches.

Migraine headaches often go hand-in-hand with severe pain and throbbing that’s usually on one side of the head. Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, blurred vision and sensitivity to smell and touch.


One common migraine trigger is change, including hormones, stress and sleeping or eating patterns.

“Tracking a pattern is a common way to figure out what may be causing your migraines. I think it is important to do a history – and being aware of where the pain is – and correlate that with what you’re doing at the time. For example, if you get your migraines around 11am, and realise you haven’t eaten breakfast, then that could be a trigger for getting a migraine” Dr Dixon says.

Tension headaches are the most common form of headache. (Image via iStock.)

Cluster headaches.

Cluster headaches are one-sided headaches, that last anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours, and are extremely painful. Cluster headaches come and go, and are often seasonal.

“Cluster headaches are a migraine variant. They tend to involve waves of excruciating pain around eye nose and ear, in a triangle shape” Dr Dixon says.

Hormonal headaches.

Around 15.5 per cent of women suffer from migraines, and for almost half of them, they tend to occur a few days prior or after their period. In many cases, the hormonal fluctuations appear to be an aggravating factor for headaches and migraines and not the main cause.

"This is because at this time the blood levels of the hormones progesterone and oestrogen are at their lowest. The exact mechanism how oestrogen levels affect migraines is still unclear." Dr Dixon explains.

There is also the possibility that premenstrual migraines are coincidental, rather than hormonal, for example prior to getting a period, the things you crave to eat could enhance your chances of getting migraine headaches.

Chronic headaches.

By definition, chronic daily headaches occur 15 days or more a month, for at least three months. Chronic daily headaches aren't caused by another condition.

Occasional headaches are common, and usually require no medical attention. However, consult your doctor if you frequently have two or more headaches a week, take pain reliever for your headaches most days, or if your headaches worsen, change pattern or are debilitating.

If your headache is sudden and severe, if you have a fever with your headache, experience confusion, blurred vision, difficulty speaking or feel any sensation of numbness, then seek prompt medical advice.

Do you suffer from frequent headaches? What have you found helps?

One way to help alleviate stress, a common cause of tension headaches, is to meditate. Check out Mamamia TV's intro guide to meditation here.


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