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What are the different types of headaches?

Headaches can be described in several different ways, but typically they are classified as cluster, tension or migraine headaches. The headache types differ in their location, duration, severity, precipitating factors and associated symptoms. The treatment for the different types can be similar, but classification can assist the physician in tailoring treatment specifically for each patient.

Several types of headaches exist, and each type is classified by specific symptoms. Headaches are very common, with 90 percent of adults experiencing some type of headache pain.

Tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache; about 3 in 4 adults experience these headaches. More women than men have tension-type headaches. The identifying characteristics of these headaches include mild-to-moderate, steady, pressing pain, and pain emanating from both sides of the head. The pain may last from a few hours to several days and is usually treated by self-care approaches or nonprescription (over-the-counter) medications, such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Advil).

People who suffer from migraine headaches usually seek medical attention; about 18 percent of women and 6 percent of men suffer from migraines. Migraine pain is characterized as a moderate-to-severe, pulsating, throbbing pain often focused on one side of the head. This pain is intensified by simple physical activity. Migraine pain can be managed by a combination of nonprescription and prescription medications and self-care approaches and by avoiding triggers that set off migraine attacks.

Cluster headaches are rare. They occur in less than 1 percent of the population, and most cluster headache sufferers are men. Cluster headaches include these symptoms: extremely severe one-sided pain around an eye; pain that lasts from 15 minutes to 3 hours; headaches recur with a frequency ranging from once every other day to 8 times per day. Additional symptoms are typical in cluster headache attacks. Doctors prescribe a variety of prescription medications for treating and preventing cluster headaches.

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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.