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Common Headache Types


It’s important to understand that migraine is not “just a bad headache.” Migraine is a chronic, recurrent, and often debilitating medical condition that requires proper diagnosis and treatment. Migraine attacks:

  • Are characterized by throbbing pain, ranging from moderate to severe, usually felt on one side of the head
  • Last at least four hours, and can last up to 72 hours
  • Affect three times more women than men
  • Disrupt family time and cause sufferers to cancel leisure activities

In addition:

  • About two thirds of migraineurs experience a “prodrome,” or pre-headache phase, a few hours or days before the full onset of an attack.
    • Symptoms include fatigue, drowsiness, mood change, food cravings, thirst and extreme sensitivity to light, sound and even certain odors.
  • About 20 percent of migraineurs experience the next phase-the “aura”-which consists of temporary neurologic disturbances, including blind spots, flashing spots or streams of light, tingling, or weakness in the face and hands and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms occur 10 to 60 minutes before an attack, but are not always followed by the onset of headache pain.
  • With the headache comes one or more other symptoms-nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, heightened sensitivity to light and sound, blurred vision, tenderness of the face and scalp and difficulty concentrating.²·
  • As the headache diminishes, about half of migraineurs experience a “postdrome” phase, in which symptoms of fatigue, drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, facial tenderness or a feeling of general discomfort may remain for one to two days.²

Therefore, once an attack occurs, an employee may be unproductive or absent from work for up to several days. Employees with migraine are also likely to experience “presenteeism,” in which they’re physically at work, but unable to function.8


Most people have experienced a headache that surfaces in the forehead, temples, or the back of the head and neck. This is commonly called a “tension-type” headache. Generally, these headaches occur randomly and are often the result of temporary stress, anxiety, fatigue or anger.

Symptoms include:
· Soreness in the temples
· A tightening band-like sensation around the head (a “vise-like” ache)
· A pulling feeling
· Pressure sensations
· Contracting head and neck muscles

Unlike migraine, tension-type headaches are not usually associated with nausea or vomiting, and are not affected by physical activity. In most cases, these headaches can be effectively treated with non-prescription medications, exercise, or just a good night’s sleep.

Sometimes, the headache may occur just about every day for long periods of time. When this happens, healthcare professionals call it “chronic tension-type” headache.These headaches are more difficult to treat and may require medical attention.


Cluster headaches got their name because the attacks come in groups. Although rare (it is estimated that less than one percent of the population are victims of cluster headaches), the pain has been described as the most severe and intense of any headache type and arrives with little, if any, warning. Most sufferers have one to four headaches a day during a cluster period, and they experience the headache somewhere between the ages of 20 and 45. More men (about five to one) than women suffer from cluster headaches.

Attacks generally last from 30 to 45 minutes to several hours, and sometimes reoccur later in the day. Other characteristics of cluster headache pain include:

  • Located on one side of the head
  • Beginning around one eye, “like a nail or knife stabbing or piercing” your eye, or as if someone “were pulling out” your eye.
  • Accompanied by a tearing or bloodshot eye and a runny nose on the side of the headache.
  • Moving from the eye to the forehead, temple, and cheek on the same side.
  • Described as piercing, burning, throbbing, pulsating, and so excruciating that most victims cannot sit still and feel compelled to rock in a chair, walk back and forth, or bang their heads against something.
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