What Are the Types of Headaches and Location?

Reviewed on 12/30/2022

What Are the 7 Types of Headaches?

Woman with a headache pinches her nose
The seven types of headaches are tension headaches, migraine headaches, sinus headaches, cluster headaches, chronic daily headaches, medication overuse headaches, and exercise-induced headaches.

There are several different types of headaches. The most common types of headaches are:

  • Tension headaches
    • The most common type of headache
    • Feel like a band around the head
    • Pressure or tightness is located on both sides of the head
  • Migraine headaches 
    • Often affect one side of the head 
    • Feel like pounding or throbbing pain
  • Sinus headaches 
    • Pain and pressure are located in the sinus area
    • Tenderness may occur when the area is touched
    • Pain may worsen when changing head positions or getting up from bed

Other types of headaches that occur less frequently include:

  • Cluster headaches
    • Short but painful headaches that can occur for weeks or months at a time
  • Chronic daily headaches
  • Medication overuse headaches
  • Exercise-induced headaches

What Are Symptoms of Each Headache Type?

Symptoms of headaches may vary depending on the type of headache

Tension headaches usually cause mild to moderate pain in the forehead, temples, or the back on head and/or neck. 

Symptoms of tension headaches include head pain that:

  • Is not usually severe
  • Is aching and dull — not throbbing 
  • Feels like a “vice-like” tightening band-like sensation around the neck and/or head

Other symptoms that may accompany a chronic tension headache include: 

Symptoms of migraines can vary from person to person and from migraine to migraine. Symptoms of migraine often have five phases: 

  • Prodrome: warnings before a migraine
    • Change in mood
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle tension 
    • Subtle changes in sensations such as an unusual taste or smell
  • Aura: a visual disturbance that precedes the headache phase
    • Geometric patterns or flashing, colorful lights
    • Blind spots (scotomas)
    • Loss of vision on one side (hemianopsia)
  • Headache
    • Usually occurs on one side of the head, but may occur on both sides
    • This phase may last 4-72 hours
    • Throbbing pain 
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Sensitivity to light (photophobia) and sound (phonophobia)
  • Headache termination
    • Even without treatment, the pain usually goes away with sleep
  • Postdrome
    • Other signs may linger after the pain has gone away
    • Inability to eat
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Fatigue

Sinus headache pain is usually felt as uncomfortable pressure in the sinuses, and may be accompanied by symptoms of a sinus infection, such as: 

What Causes Headaches?

Causes of headaches depend on the type of headache. 

Tension headaches may be caused by:

The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but genetics and environment play a role. 

Migraine headaches may be triggered by: 

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of sleep/too much sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Anger
  • Withdrawal from caffeine/suddenly stopping medications that contain caffeine
  • Hunger/skipping meals
  • Weather changes or changes in barometric pressure
  • Certain foods and drinks, such as chocolate, processed foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG), and alcohol
  • Depression
  • Exposure to smoke
  • Bright lights
  • Certain smells
  • Changes in estrogen levels for women
  • Certain prescription medications, such as nitroglycerin and estrogen
  • Concussions and traumatic brain injuries

Sinus headaches are usually caused by inflammation, which may be a result of: 

When headaches are caused by an underlying medical condition, they are called secondary headaches and these may be headaches that you need to worry about. Secondary headaches could be a sign of:

How Are Headaches Diagnosed?

The underlying cause of headaches is diagnosed with a patient history and a physical examination. Tests used to diagnose the type or cause of the headache include: 

What Is the Treatment for Headaches?

Headaches can often be treated at home and will go away on their own. In some cases, for more severe or chronic headaches, prescription medicines may be needed. 

Treatment for secondary headaches caused by underlying conditions depends on the condition. 

Treatment for tension and migraine headaches includes: 

In addition to the above, migraine headaches may also be treated with:

Treatment to relieve a sinus headache may include: 

  • Home remedies 
    • Drink plenty of fluids 
    • Use a humidifier
    • Use salt water (saline) nasal sprays
    • Use a Neti-pot
  • Over-the-counter medications for pain
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) 
    • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) 
  • Decongestants 
  • Antihistamines for allergies
  • Antibiotics for infections
  • Surgery to widen the openings of the sinuses and promote drainage 
    • Reserved for severe, recurrent, chronic cases 
Reviewed on 12/30/2022
Image source: iStock Images