John R. Graham
Headache Center

at Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital

Types of Headaches

Migraines

This type of headache is distinguished by the fact that symptoms other than pain occur as part of the headache. Nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, sensitivity to light (photophobia) and other visual symptoms typically occur.

Migraines are also unique in that they have distinct phases. Not all individuals experience each phase, however.

The phases of a migraine headache may include

Premonition - a change in mood or behavior that may occur hours or days before the headache.

Aura - a group of visual, sensory, or motor symptoms that immediately precede the headache. Examples include hallucinations, numbness, changes in speech, and muscle weakness.

Headache - period during the actual headache. Throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. Sensitivity to light and motion are common, as are depression, fatigue, and anxiety.

Headache Resolution - pain lessens during this phase, but may be replaced with fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Some individuals feel refreshed after an attack, while others do not.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Stress and muscle tension are often factors in tension-type headaches. While symptoms may differ, the following are common symptoms of a tension-type headache:

  • slow onset of the headache
  • head usually hurts on both sides
  • pain is dull or feels like a band or vice around the head
  • pain may involve the back (posterior) part of the head or neck
  • pain is mild to moderate, but not severe

Tension type headaches typically do not cause nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light (photophobia).

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches usually occur in a series that may last weeks or months, and the headache series may return every year or two. While people often experience symptoms differently, the following are the most common symptoms of a cluster headache:

  • Severe pain on one side of the head, usually behind one eye
  • The eye that is affected may have a droopy lid, small pupil or redness and swelling of the eyelid
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Swelling of the forehead 

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