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

Continue Learning about Headache

Is a Migraine in the Forecast?
Is a Migraine in the Forecast?
High humidity provokes bad hair days, but what about headaches? If you're migraine-prone, you might want to check the weather report and keep pain me...
Read More
How should I track my headache patterns?
Dr. Dawn MarcusDr. Dawn Marcus
The best way to learn more about your headache threshold is to keep a headache diary. This will ...
More Answers
8 Surprising Migraine Triggers
8 Surprising Migraine Triggers8 Surprising Migraine Triggers8 Surprising Migraine Triggers8 Surprising Migraine Triggers
See if you recognize any of these unusual triggers.
Start Slideshow
Does Alcohol Trigger Migraines?
Does Alcohol Trigger Migraines?

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.