Nearly everyone has a headache from time to time. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 47 percent of the world’s adult population has had a headache within the last year. It’s believed that chemical activity in your brain, nerves or blood vessels in your head, muscles in your head and neck—or some combination of these factors—play a role in creating the pain signals associated with headache.
The International Headache Society has established a comprehensive classification that includes more than 150 headache categories. “Primary” headaches are headaches that are actually conditions and not the symptom of an underlying condition. The most common types of primary headaches are tension headaches, migraines, cluster headaches and chronic daily headaches.
Tension headaches are generally caused by tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp or jaw and are usually related to stress, depression, anxiety or holding your head in an abnormal position. Women are twice as likely to suffer from tension headaches as men.
Migraine headaches feature moderate to severe pain that is throbbing, pounding or pulsing in nature and can involve vision changes, sensitivity to sound or light, nausea and loss of appetite. More than 90 percent of migraine sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine. It’s estimated that more than 157 million work and school days every year are lost to migraines.
Cluster headaches feature intensely sharp pain located behind one eye or in the eye region. They generally occur up to several times a day and may last anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months, then disappear completely for months or years. Chronic daily headaches are persistent and ongoing, occurring every day for at least three months. It is believed that chronic headaches may evolve from tension-type headaches or be started by neck injuries or tiredness.
Occipital neuralgia is a relatively rare type of primary headache that can occur when the occipital nerves—which run from the top of the spinal cord at the base of the neck up through the scalp—are inflamed or irritated. The pain associated with occipital neuralgia is sharp, jabbing and electric. Other symptoms include aching, burning or throbbing in the head, pain behind the eye, sensitivity to light and a tender scalp.