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Types of Headache

Topic Overview

It can be hard for your doctor to tell whether you have migraine headaches, tension headaches, sinus headaches, cluster headaches, or a combination of these types. The symptoms of these headaches are often the same, and no test can diagnose headaches.

Listing a few key features of your headaches may help your doctor find out what type of headache you have. This can help your doctor treat your headaches.

For example, you may think that your headaches are sinus headaches. But if they happen often and interfere with your daily life, they probably are migraines. A true sinus headache is caused by a sinus infection.

Common types of headache

Type

Where the pain is

How bad the pain is

Things that make it worse

Symptoms

Migraine

Usually on one side of your head with pressure behind one eye

Throbbing, pulsating headache that is moderate to severe

Pain gets worse with normal physical activity.

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling worse around light and noise
  • Runny or stuffy nose can occur along with other symptoms, such as diarrhea and fatigue.
  • May begin at night and wake you from sleep

Sinus

Around your eyes, cheekbones, forehead, and bridge of the nose

Deep and constant headache pain

Leaning over, sudden movement, or exercising may make the headache worse.

  • A fever
  • Green or gray discharge from your nose that lasts more than 7 to 10 days
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • A feeling of fullness in the ears, or plugged ears
  • Swelling or puffiness in the face

Tension

On both sides or all over your head

Deep, pressing, tightening headache that does not throb or pulse and is mild to moderate

Physical activity does not make headache worse.

  • No nausea or vomiting
  • May be worse around light or noise (but not both)
  • May last for minutes to several days

Cluster

On one side of the face, head, or neck; does not switch sides

Piercing pain that gets very bad very fast, usually within 5 to 10 minutes

Lying down makes it worse.

  • Watery eyes and small (constricted) pupils
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Droopy or swollen eyelids
  • Sweating on the forehead or face
  • May wake you at night.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Colin Chalk, MD, CM, FRCPC - Neurology
Last Revised June 4, 2013

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