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What is the difference between primary and secondary headaches?

For primary headaches, the headache pain itself is the illness. Primary headaches include these types:
  • tension headaches
  • migraine headaches
  • cluster headaches
  • exertion headaches
In contrast, for secondary headaches, the headache pain is secondary to, and a symptom of, some underlying illness, such as:
  • a common cold, influenza, or sinusitis
  • systemic infection, including meningitis
  • bleeding in the brain, such as bleeding that may occur from a stroke or aneurysm
  • tooth pain or pain at the joint between the lower jaw and the skull (temporomandibular joint pain, or TMJ)
  • eyestrain or glaucoma
  • elevated blood pressure (hypertension)
  • brain tumor
  • head injury
  • withdrawal from alcohol or drugs
  • medication-overuse headache from chronic use of pain relievers or other medicines

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.