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Types of Headaches

If severe or frequent headaches significantly affect your life, you can find relief at the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Neuroscience Institute. To effectively treat headache pain, we first pinpoint the type of headache that’s causing your symptoms.

Primary headache types

When your headache pain isn’t associated with (or caused by) another medical condition, physicians call this a primary headache. Migraine, tension, and cluster headaches are three common types of primary headaches.

Migraine headaches

Migraines have been the subject of intense investigation and research. Find out more about the unique symptoms that occur before, during, and after a migraine, as well as how physicians diagnose and treat this medical disorder. Learn about migraine care at AHN.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache.What is a tension headache? Tension headaches often result from stress or anxiety. Many people experience this type of headache after a hard day at work or while dealing with other life challenges.

What are the symptoms of a tension headache? These headaches can feel like a pounding sensation, a dull ache, or a pressure like a tight band around your head. While the symptoms of tension headaches and migraines are similar, tension headaches usually don’t cause visual disturbances, nausea, or vomiting. If you have a tension headache, you may feel a:

  • Dull, aching head pain
  • Tightness or pressure across your forehead or on the sides and back of your head
  • Tenderness on your scalp, neck, jaw, and shoulders

How do physicians treat a tension headache? Mild tension headaches usually go away on their own or improve with over-the-counter pain relievers paired with home remedies such as resting and cool compresses. If you experience severe or frequent tension headaches, your physician may recommend a combination of at-home treatments and prescription medication.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches hurt more than most other types of headaches.

What is a cluster headache? Cluster headaches come in batches of frequent attacks, called cluster periods, which can last for days or weeks at a time. You may have several headaches each day, for several days in a row, then have no headaches for weeks or months. The intense pain of cluster headaches usually stems from the temple or eye. It can wake you up from a deep sleep.

What are the symptoms of a cluster headache? People with cluster headaches may experience:

  • Very severe pain, centered around one eye or spreading to other areas of your face, head, neck, and shoulders
  • Eye changes on the affected side, such as a drooping eyelid, extra tearing, or redness
  • Stuffy or runny nose on the affected side of your face
  • Sweaty, pale facial skin

How do physicians treat a cluster headache? The pain from cluster headaches comes on suddenly and may not last long, so medications for cluster headaches focus on treating symptoms quickly. Our neurologists prescribe the latest therapies proven to be most effective in treating these headaches.

Secondary headaches

If a separate medical condition plays a role in your headache symptoms, it is called a secondary headache. In this case, your treatment depends on the underlying medical issue.

Conditions that may cause frequent or hard-to-handle headache pain include:

  • Allergies
  • Concussion, a hard hit to the head that causes brain trauma
    Sinus infection
  • Trigeminal neuralgia, a facial pain disorder

Get expert headache diagnosis and treatment at AHN

We offer expert guidance on headache care. We’ll first perform a thorough medical history and physical examination. We may recommend imaging tests to confirm a diagnosis or rule out other potential causes of your pain.

Once we identify the headache type, we tailor treatment to your specific circumstances. We provide research-backed therapies and the latest medications tested in clinical trials so that you can experience the best possible outcome. Medication is just one of many options that can help relieve headache pain. Learn more about our comprehensive approach to headache care.

Our treatment goal is always to:

  • Decrease how much pain you’re in now
  • Shorten the headache attack period
  • Prevent future attacks from occurring

Contact us

Call (412) 578-3925 to request an appointment at the AHN Headache Center.

AHN Headache Center
West Penn Hospital
4815 Liberty Ave.
Suite 439
Pittsburgh, PA 15224

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