What Is Headache?

Headache is defined as pain in any region of the head. A headache can be isolated to a particular area, occur on one or both sides, shoot across the head from one area to another. The pain associated with headache can range from mild to severe, and include a dull ache, sharp pain, or throbbing feeling. Headache can come on abruptly or develop over time. It may last for just a few moments up to several days.


There are over 150 different varieties of headaches. The most common types of headache include:

Tension Headache: Tension headaches are considered the most common type of headache. They typically begin slowly and gradually worsen once they start. Tension headaches are characterised by a dull, constant ache on both sides of the head, pain in or spreading from the neck, and feeling as if there is a band wrapped tightly around the head.

Migraine: A migraine is typically accompanied by intense throbbing and/or pounding pain. Other symptoms that occur in migraine headaches can include: sensitivity to light, upset stomach, loss of appetite, nausea, and in some cases vomiting. They can last from 4 hours up to 3 or more days, and typically occur 1-4 times each month in people that experience them.

Sinus Headache: Sinus headaches occur when sinus cavities become inflamed. They are characterised by a deep, unrelenting pain in the bridge of the nose, forehead, and cheekbones. A sinus infection causes sinus headache, and include other symptoms such as: runny nose, fever, swelling of the face, and plugged-up ears.

Cluster Headache: A cluster headache is the most severe type of headache that exists. While more rare than other types of headaches, a cluster headache is considered the most painful and intense. It is marked by a piercing or burning pain behind one eye that can be constantly throbbing. They are named cluster headaches because they usually happen in groups 2-3 times a day during an episode. A cluster period can last 2 weeks up to three months. Cluster headaches happen in men 3-4 times more than they do women.

What Causes Headache?

There are several different causes for headache. The causes of headache are categorised into two different types. These include primary (not caused by another condition) and secondary (caused by an underlying condition).

Primary Headache: Primary headache is caused problems or overactivity in the head. This can include nerves, muscles, and blood vessels of both the head and neck. Primary headaches can also be caused by certain chemical changes in the brain. The most common types of primary headaches are tension, migraine, and cluster headaches.

Secondary Headache: Secondary headache is a symptom of another underlying condition. Common causes of secondary headache include:

  • Dehydration
  • Anxiety
  • Panic Attack
  • Hangover
  • Drug or alcohol withdrawal
  • Blood clots
  • Brain tumour
  • Grinding of the teeth at night
  • Concussion
  • Glaucoma
  • Bleeding in or around the brain
  • Stroke

A headache that becomes more severe or increases with frequency or intensity could be a sign of a more serious medical condition. If a headache becomes worse, does not go away with medication, or is accompanied by fever, confusion, or changes in vision, a medical professional should be contacted immediately.


Treatment for headache will depend on the type of headache a person is experiencing.

  • Treatment for tension headaches: Treatment typically involves over-the-counter pain medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed for tension headaches, as they can help relieve the anxiety and depression responsible for them. Alternative treatments for tension headaches might include: cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, various relaxation techniques, massage, and heat therapy.
  • Treatment for migraine: Migraines are usually treated by resting in a dark room, applying a hot or cold compress to the neck or head, small amounts of caffeine, massage, and prescription medication.
  • Treatment for cluster headache: Treatment can involve a variety of different techniques. Because they tend to be so rare, cluster headache treatment has evolved from clinical trials rather than controlled trials. Treatment for cluster headaches can include: inhaling oxygen for 15 minutes, tryptamine-based drugs, and topical lidocaine nasal drops. Preventative treatment of cluster headaches can include: antihypertensive drugs, lithium, melatonin, and corticosteroids.
  • Treatment for sinus headache: Sinus headache is typically treated with over-the-counter pain medication, decongestants, and draining of the nasal cavities to relieve pressure causing the headache. Because a sinus headache is usually caused by an infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to stop the underlying cause.

External Links

Headaches: Causes, treatment, and types, Medical News Today

Headache Basics, WebMD

Treatment of Cluster Headache, Peter J Goadsby, MD, PhD, DSc, American Migraine Foundation (AMF)

close help
Who am I calling?

Calls will be answered by admissions at UK Addiction Treatment Group.

We look forward to helping you take your first step

0808 278 9885