An In-depth Examination of Headache Varieties: Navigating Through the Symptomatology and Etiological Factors of Common and Rare Headache Types

A Headache is one of the most common symptoms of a clinical presentation and it is one of the most common types of pain that people complain of.

A headache can be of various types and can be caused by many underlying health conditions. The location of its presentation, the character of the headache, and the time and duration of its onset along with its variation with time and its frequency can provide important clues regarding its causes. Generally, the causes of a headache can be classified into a primary or a secondary cause.

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Primary headaches

A primary headache is not a symptom of an underlying health issue. The headache is the primary problem. It can be very discomforting and disabling for the patient but generally, primary headaches are not dangerous for the person.
Some of the common types of primary headaches along with their symptoms and treatment options are mentioned below.

Tension headache

This type of headache primarily originates from stress-related issues. It starts with the extended duration of stress resulting in muscular tension in the head and neck muscles. This muscular tension in the neck and shoulder region is translated by the brain as a headache. Commonly, it presents with a tight bandlike pain around the head. It can occur on one or both sides of the head. It is improved by taking pain medications.

Migraine headache

Usually, it is a throbbing one-sided type of headache. But it can occur on both sides of the head. The patient also may feel sick while suffering from this headache. Migraine headache is also associated with sensory disturbances. Common sensory issues include seeing flashes of light, seeing a blind spot, or an aura around the visual field. Migraine headaches can be extremely disturbing for the patient. Many hormone-related changes, stress, sensory issues, and weather changes can trigger a migraine. Pain medication and sleeping in a dark room help improve the condition.

Cluster headache

It is a rare type of headache. In this type of headache, a patient suffers from episodic headache which occurs for weeks and months, and after that, resolves for weeks or months. The intense pain is accompanied by pain in the eye, redness in the eye, and, stuffiness and redness in the nasal cavity. It commonly occurs on one side of the head. A smoking history, male gender, alcohol use during the cluster period, and a family history can increase the risk of one having a cluster headache.

Hypnic headache

It is a rare type of headache. It occurs only at night and it manifests as pain in the whole head, not restricted to one side or any specific part of the head. It lasts for 15-60 minutes and it is not associated with visual sensitivities like in migraine headaches. It may not respond to usual pain medications.

Chronic daily headaches, exercise-related headaches, and cough headaches are some of the other types of primary headaches. Please note that these types of headaches can be a symptom of an underlying health condition too. Lifestyle factors like lack of sleep, poor posture, alcohol, and stress can also trigger primary headaches.

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Secondary headaches

Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying disease. They are a symptom of a health condition. These headaches are rare, but they can be an indication of a serious underlying health condition and hence, can be potentially dangerous. Various conditions can cause secondary headaches and the treatment option will be to treat the underlying cause. Some of the common causes of secondary headaches are mentioned below. Please note that this list is neither comprehensive nor exhaustive.

Acute sinusitis

It is inflammation and infection of the nasal cavity and surrounding sinuses. In this condition, excessive amounts of mucus are produced, and the drainage channels are blocked. This blockage leads to a buildup of mucus and consequently, a feeling of a headache.

Arterial tears

It is the formation of a tear on the inside membrane of the artery. If this tear occurs in the vertebral or carotid artery, it can lead to headaches and facial pain. The pain usually occurs on the same side of the arterial tear.

A brain aneurysm

It is a balloon-like bulge in a vessel wall and it usually occurs in vessels in which walls have been weakened. It can cause a severe headache.

Brain tumors

Any type of brain tumor can lead to a dull pressure-type headache. The location and severity of headaches may vary depending on the location, size, and type of brain tumor.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

A headache is one of the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Chiari malformation

This is a structural issue at the base of the skull that results in decreased space for the posterior part of the brain, the cerebellum. It can lead to a throbbing and sharp type of headache that may radiate in the neck and shoulder region.


A headache is one of the symptoms of concussions.

Coronavirus disease 2019

A headache is a potential symptom of COVID-19.


Due to fluid loss, there is shrinkage of the brain. This shrinkage can result in a headache.

Dental problems

Any dental issue can result in a headache due to muscular tension.

Ear infection

An ear infection can lead to a headache on the same side of the infection.


It is inflammation of the brain tissue. The inflammation results in the swelling of the brain tissue that manifests in a headache.

Giant cell arteritis

It is the inflammation of the arteries, particularly in the temple region. It causes a throbbing headache that is continuous.


Headache is often a symptom of acute angle-closure glaucoma. In this type of glaucoma, the drainage system of the eye closes and the pressure in the eye rises. This rise in pressure can present as a headache.


Alcohol can cause headaches due to various mechanisms. Usually, the alcohol intake leads to dehydration and dehydration can cause a headache.

High blood pressure

Generally, high blood pressure is not considered to be associated with headaches. But a hypertensive crisis can elicit a headache. In a hypertensive crisis, blood pressure rises significantly, and intracranial pressure increases to a great extent which can manifest as a headache.


Many types of medications that are used to treat different health conditions can cause headaches.


It is the inflammation of the layers of tissues surrounding the brain. This can present as a headache.

Tight headgear

Any type of headgear like helmets that are too tight can cause a headache.


A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is impaired and brain cells in that region begin to die. This can result in a severe sudden onset headache which is described by the patient as the worst headache of their life.

Trigeminal neuralgia

This is the pain caused by irritation of the trigeminal nerve. It can lead to pain in the face and head region.

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Final Thoughts

Headaches, in their various forms, present a common yet complex issue in both clinical settings and daily life. The diversity in types, from tension to hypnic headaches, highlights the importance of accurate diagnosis and tailored management strategies.

In my experience, effective headache management hinges on a dual approach: understanding the physiological aspects and addressing lifestyle and environmental factors. While medications play a role, recognizing and mitigating triggers – be it stress, sleep patterns, or dietary factors – are equally crucial.

Moving forward, the focus should remain on enhancing our understanding of headaches and refining management strategies, always prioritizing patient-centered and empathetic care.

Note: This section is a hypothetical addition and not an actual statement from Dr. Ali Ahsan. Always refer to the original source for authentic information.


Stanford Healthcare. (2021, May 11). Headache. Retrieved October 15, 2023, from

Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, May 11). Causes of common headaches. Retrieved October 15, 2023, from



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