Headaches Center

Headache Symptoms

Headaches come in many different shapes and sizes.  Some last for just a few minutes, others can last for more than 72 hours.  They may occur on just one side of the head, or both.  One headache may pulsate, another one sharp, and yet another gives a dull pain.   We'll review the four main categories of headaches and their accompanying symptoms.

1.    Inflammatory - Inflammatory headaches are caused by different types of inflammation, such as a sinus infection or bacterial meningitis.  Different inflammatory conditions may result in different conditions.  For example, an inflammatory headache associated with bacterial meningitis will usually accompany a stiff neck.  A sinus headache sufferer may experience pain in the cheeks and forehead, and feel worse when bending forward or lying down    

2.    Muscle contraction (tension) - Tension headaches usually cause a pain around your head, like a tight band.  The headache pain may be dull and aching, with the area around the head (shoulders, neck, and scalp being tender.  You may also lose your appetite.  Tension headaches can last for less than an hour to an entire week.  

3.    Vascular  - Migraine headaches throb, feel severe, and have accompanying symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.  Cluster headaches, a vascular headache just like migraine headaches, affect one part of the head, may go away and come back for up to several weeks, and usually come with a stuffy nose and teary eye.  

4.    Traction - Traction headaches are the cause of a more serious medical condition, such as a tumor, abscess, strained eye muscles, or other disease of the head.  Symptoms of traction headaches vary according to cause.  For example, headache pains may vary from throbbing pain, persistent pain, intense shooting pain, etc.  Tumors may cause headaches that feel like a strong pressure is against the head, whereas dental and oral conditions may provide headache pain in the face and entire head. 

Other symptoms of headache
Rebound headaches, the result of over reliance on pain medications, may be dull, sharp, or throbbing; medications actually cause the headache rather than relieving the pain.   Chronic headaches last for more than 15 days out of a month, have a dull pain or feel like a tight band around the head, and can affect one or both sides of the head.  

When to seek help
While most headaches do not require immediate attention, emergency attention is need in the following cases:

  • Fever, stiff neck, rash, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking
  • Onset after a head injury, fall or bump
  • Pain worsens despite rest and over-the-counter pain medication
  • Sudden onset of severe headache

If your life quality is being interrupted by headaches, you may want to see your doctor.  Doctors can help diagnose and treat pains caused by headaches. To learn more about the diagnosis process for different headache types, read the next section called How to diagnose a headache.

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