Types of Headaches Chart: A Comprehensive Visual Guide

Types of headaches chart: Explore our comprehensive visual guide to understand the various types of headaches, their symptoms, and potential causes - a valuable resource.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost half of all adults face a headache at least once a year.1 A headache comes from inflammation in pain-sensitive areas of the head and neck. This includes nerves, muscles, and blood vessels. The International Headache Society distinguishes over 150 types of headache. They are known as either primary or secondary. Primary headaches, like tension, migraine, and cluster headaches, are the most common. Secondary headaches happen due to an underlying health issue.

Key Takeaways

  • The International Headache Society classifies over 150 different types of headache.
  • Primary headaches like tension, migraine, and cluster headaches are the main concern.
  • Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying health condition.
  • Headaches can affect various parts of the head and neck.
  • Understanding headache types and causes is crucial for proper treatment and management.

Understanding the Types of Headaches

Headaches fall into two main categories: primary and secondary. Primary headaches are the main issue, causing pain themselves. Secondary headaches signal an underlying health problem.

Primary vs. Secondary Headaches

Tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches are common primary headaches. They are not a result of another health issue. They are the main source of pain.

However, secondary headaches indicate an underlying condition, like sinus infection or high blood pressure. These headaches vary in type and strength, showing different problems.

Episodic vs. Chronic Headaches

Episodic headaches happen sometimes, up to 15 days a month. Chronic headaches occur more often, requiring a special pain management plan.2

Knowing the difference between primary and secondary headaches helps one seek proper medical care. This knowledge is vital for understanding how often headaches happen and their effects.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common primary headache type. They affect 46-78% of people worldwide.1 The pain feels like a tight band around your head. It’s usually dull and starts at the back of the head, then spreads to the temples and forehead.

Stress is the leading cause of these headaches. But, not sleeping enough, feeling sad, worrying a lot, missing meals, and drinking can also trigger them.1

Symptoms and Location

Tension headaches bring a dull, constant pain. People often say it’s like their head is in a vice grip. The pain can be felt across the forehead, temples, and the back of the head.

This feeling of a tight band around the head is a key sign of a tension headache. The pain level varies: it could be irritating or very hard to ignore.

Causes and Triggers

The main cause of these headaches is tight muscles in the head, neck, and shoulders. This happens a lot when you’re stressed. Other things that can set off these headaches are:

  • Worry and tension
  • Bad posture or sore muscles in the neck and shoulders
  • Not getting enough sleep or restless sleep
  • Not eating or not drinking enough water
  • Feeling down
  • Certain foods or drinks, like alcohol

If you know what triggers your tension headaches, you can often stop them from coming back.1

Migraine Headaches

Around 1 billion people worldwide get migraines. Women are twice as likely to have them as men.1 Migraines bring on a strong, throbbing pain on one side. This pain lasts from 4 to 72 hours. It gets worse with physical activity.2 Some people see things like bright lights before they happen. They might also feel numb or tingly.2

Symptoms and Location

Migraines cause a strong, throbbing pain on one side of the head. This pain can last from 4 to 72 hours. It gets worse with physical activity.2 Some people see bright lights or specific patterns before the migraine starts. They might also feel numb or tingly.2

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Causes and Triggers

Many things can trigger a migraine. Stress and anxiety are common triggers. So are hormonal changes and bright lights. Even certain foods can start one.2

Migraine with Aura

Some people get migraines with a warning sign. They may see bright lights or patterns before the pain starts. They might also experience numbness or feel tingly.2

migraine headaches

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are rare but very painful, affecting under 1 in 1,000 adults. They are more common in men.2 These headaches cause severe pain behind or around one eye, such as a piercing or burning sensation.3 They may happen in cycles of 2 weeks to 3 months, with breaks in-between, or they can be continuous for over a year.3

Symptoms and Location

These headaches target one side of the face, typically around or behind one eye.3 They last from 15 minutes to 3 hours each.3 A person might get between one and eight headaches daily, usually at the same time.3 The pain is so intense that it’s often described as sharp or burning, and it can cause the eye and nose to become red and swollen.4

Episodic vs. Chronic Cluster Headaches

For some, these headaches come daily for a few months, then disappear completely until the next cycle.3 They affect men more than women and tend to peak during spring and fall.3 Typically, they start between ages 20 and 50, but they can afflict anyone within this range.2 There’s a small chance they run in families.2 Without treatment, these headaches range from 15 minutes to 3 hours and can become a daily problem for weeks. They may then stop for varying times, from months to years.2

types of headaches chart

The visual given shows a detailed types of headaches chart. It lists each headache type, where it typically occurs, and common reasons for each.1 This chart is a key tool for learning about different headaches and what makes them unique.

The headache chart focuses on both primary and secondary headaches. It includes info on tension-type headaches1, migraines1, cluster headaches15, sinus headaches1, and medication overuse headaches.1 It’s a detailed headache classification chart that’s incredibly helpful for exploring the wide variety of headaches and what causes them.

Medication Overuse Headaches

Rebound headaches are also called medication overuse headaches. They come from using OTC pain relievers too often. This includes drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen.1 Using these medications more than 15 days a month can cause more headaches, not less.1

The WHO says nearly half of all adults get a headache yearly.1 Between 46–78% of people have tension-type headaches. They are the most common kind.1 Migraine strikes about 1 billion folks across the globe. Women are twice as likely to get migraines or serious headaches in the last 3 months.1

Only a small share, less than 1 in 1,000 adults, get cluster headaches as per the WHO. But, up to 33% of folks with cluster headaches experience extra nerve pain too.1 For those who had a traumatic brain injury, around 18–58% get post-traumatic headaches in the upcoming year. These headaches start about a week after the injury.1

Using too much of these OTC pain medications can start a bad cycle. They offer short-term relief but then make headaches come back more often and stronger. It’s a worrying issue for those with frequent or severe headaches who look for help. Medication overuse headaches should be taken seriously.

Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches happen because of a sinus infection. They are a type of secondary headache.6 These headaches make the forehead, cheekbones, and nose hurt and feel pressure.6 Headaches can come with fever and pus from the nose if it’s an acute sinus issue.7

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Symptoms and Location

The pain from sinus headaches affects the forehead, cheekbones, and nose. It comes with other signs of a sinus infection like a stuffy nose, swollen face, and fever.3 They are common for people with allergies or chronic sinus problems.3

Post-Traumatic Headaches

Symptoms and Location

After head injuries, some people get post-traumatic headaches. They are a common sign after a head injury, with 18-58% of folks getting them in the first year.8 These headaches are usually not very severe, and they can happen in the temples, forehead, neck, or the back/top of the head.

People might also feel sick to their stomach, throw up, and find light and sound bothersome.

Headache Pain Locations

The place of a headache can hint at what’s causing it. But the same headache type might show up differently in each person.1

Headaches on One Side

Headaches on one side are often seen in migraines and cluster headaches.1 Sometimes, tension headaches or other types can make the whole head hurt.

Headaches at the Back of the Head

Back-of-the-head pain could mean neck issues or occipital neuralgia. This is when the nerves at the back of the head are hurt.6

Headaches at the Front of the Head

Feeling pain at the front could point to sinus problems or eye issues. It usually affects the forehead, cheekbones, and around the nose.

Headaches All Over the Head

Some headaches spread all over the head. Tension headaches and a few other types do this too.1

Headaches at the Top of the Head

Top-of-the-head pain might be due to tension, migraines, or occipital neuralgia.1

Pain in the Head and Neck

Head and neck pain can be from cervicogenic headaches or meningitis.1

Identifying Headache Types by Pain Quality

The way your head hurts can tell you what type of headache you have. If it feels dull and like it’s squeezing, it might be a tension headache. If it’s more of a throbbing, pulsing pain, you could be dealing with a migraine. Sudden and intense “thunderclap” headaches need quick medical help.3

Headache TypePain Quality
Tension HeadachesDull, “tightening” sensation
Migraine HeadachesThrobbing, pulsing pain
Thunderclap HeadachesSudden, intense pain

Thunderclap Headaches

Thunderclap headaches hit fast, peaking in under a minute.3 They could be nothing serious or signal something big like a torn blood vessel, stroke, or a brain issue.36 They’re not common and usually last just a minute. They’re often a sign of dangerous problems such as bleeding in the brain or tumors.6 If you have a sudden severe headache for the first time, get help right away.


Headaches can come in many forms, with over 150 types recognized by experts.9 Learning about these types, their signs, why they happen, and where you feel them is key. This helps in getting the right medical help and care. This guide covered the top primary and secondary headaches. It helps you understand and deal with your headache worries.

Studies show headaches are a big problem worldwide.10 Because of this, more clinics focused on headaches have opened. Also, there are new guides for doctors. These developments mean more help for those with headaches. Knowing about the kinds of headaches and the latest treatments helps you. It allows you to take steps towards managing your headaches. This can make your life better.

Do you face tension headaches, migraines, cluster headaches, or others? This guide is here to help you understand and manage your headaches better.9 Learning about what makes each type different and getting the right care is important. It puts you in charge of your health. This way, you can reduce how much headaches affect your life.

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What are the main types of headaches?

The main headache types are tension, migraine, cluster, sinus, and post-traumatic. If the headache itself is the main problem, it’s called a primary headache. If it’s a sign of another health issue, it’s a secondary headache.

What is the difference between episodic and chronic headaches?

Episodic headaches happen sometimes, up to 15 days in a month. Chronic headaches come more often, over 15 days a month, and need a detailed plan to manage the pain.

What are the symptoms and causes of tension headaches?

Tension headaches cause a dull, pressing pain. It feels like a tight band around your head. They are often due to stress, but not always. Other causes are not sleeping enough, feeling low, stress, skipping meals, and drinking alcohol.

What are the symptoms and causes of migraine headaches?

Migraines bring on a strong, throbbing pain on one side of your head. This can last between 4 to 72 hours. Certain foods, light, stress, and hormonal changes can trigger them. For some, they come with a “migraine with aura” warning, which might include seeing flashing lights or feeling parts of your body go numb.

What are the characteristics of cluster headaches?

Cluster headaches are very severe, often around or behind one eye. They can be episodic, happening in clusters with breaks, or chronic, lasting over a year without stopping.

What is a medication overuse headache?

Rebound headaches or medication overuse headaches happen when you use pain relievers too often. Pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen if used on more than 15 days a month, can cause these headaches.

What are the symptoms and causes of sinus headaches?

Sinus headaches are caused by a sinus infection. They cause pain in the forehead, cheekbones, and nose. Symptoms like a stuffy nose, facial swelling, and fever often come with them.

What are post-traumatic headaches?

Post-traumatic headaches come after a head injury. They are common after a brain injury, affecting 18-58% of people in the first year. The pain is usually mild to moderate and can happen in the temples, forehead, neck, or at the top of your head.

How can the location of a headache provide clues about the underlying cause?

Where your head hurts can show what’s causing the headache. Migraines and cluster headaches often hurt on just one side. Tension and certain other headaches might hurt all over. Neck issues can cause pain at the back of your head. Nose or eye problems might cause front head pain. If your top head hurts, it might be tension, migraine, or come from the neck. Head and neck pain together could mean a cervicogenic headache or meningitis.

How can the quality of headache pain provide clues to the type of headache?

The way your headache feels can tell you what type it is. A tight, dull headache might be from stress. A pulsing, throbbing pain is often a migraine. A sudden, strong headache might be a sign of something serious and needs quick medical help.

What are thunderclap headaches?

Thunderclap headaches start suddenly, peaking in under a minute. They can be from a minor issue or something serious like a stroke. If you have one for the first time, get medical help right away.

Source Links

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/headache-chart
  2. https://headaches.org/resources/the-complete-headache-chart/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/headache/types-of-headaches
  4. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/ss/slideshow-headaches-types
  5. https://texasneurology.com/assets/library/texas-neurology-complete-headache-chart.pdf
  6. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/understanding-headache-location-comprehensive-guide
  7. https://www.health.com/condition/headaches-and-migraines/headache-location-chart
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4062350/
  9. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/headache-causes-and-diagnosis-in-adults-beyond-the-basics
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590146/