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Headache Basics

According to the National Headache Foundation, over 45 million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches and of these, 28 million suffer from migraines. About 20% of children and adolescents also experience significant headaches.

What Are the Types of Headaches?

There are several types of headaches; in fact, 150 diagnostic headache categories have been established.

The most common types of headaches are:

Tension headaches: Also called chronic daily headaches or chronic non-progressive headaches, tension headaches are the most common type of headaches among adults and adolescents. These muscle contraction headaches cause mild to moderate pain and come and go over a prolonged period of time.

Migraines: The exact causes of migraines are unknown. A popular theory is that various triggers cause abnormal brain activity, which in turn causes changes in the blood vessels in the brain. This is called the neurovascular theory. Genetics plays a role in migraines and there are some forms of migraines that are associated with inherited abnormalities in certain parts of the brain. Migraine pain is moderate to severe, often described as pounding, throbbing pain. Migraine headaches can last from four hours to three days and usually occur one to four times per month. Migraines are associated with symptoms such as sensitivity to light, noise, or odors; nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite; and stomach upset or abdominal pain. When a child is having a migraine, he or she often looks pale, feels dizzy, has blurred vision, fever, stomach upset, along with the symptoms listed above.

A small percentage of children's migraines include recurrent (cyclic) gastrointestinal symptoms, vomiting being the most common. Cyclic vomiting means that the symptoms occur on a regular basis -- about once a month. These types of migraines are sometimes called abdominal migraines.

Mixed headache syndrome: Also called transformed migraines, mixed headache syndrome is a combination of migraine and tension headaches. Both adults and children experience this type of headache.

Cluster headaches: The least common -- although the most severe -- type of primary headache, the pain of a cluster headache is intense and may be described as having a burning or piercing quality that is throbbing or constant. The pain is so severe that most cluster headache sufferers cannot sit still and will often pace during an attack. The pain is located behind one eye or in the eye region, without changing sides. The term "cluster headache" refers to headaches that have a characteristic grouping of attacks. Cluster headaches occur one to three times per day during a cluster period, which may last two weeks to three months. The headaches may disappear completely (go into "remission") for months or years, only to recur.

Sinus headaches: Sinus headaches are associated with a deep and constant pain in the cheekbones, forehead, or bridge of the nose. The pain usually intensifies with sudden head movement or straining and usually occurs with other sinus symptoms, such as nasal discharge, feeling of fullness in the ears, fever, and facial swelling.

WebMD Medical Reference

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