A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck. Serious causes of headaches are rare. Most people with headaches can feel much better by making lifestyle changes, learning ways to relax, and sometimes by taking medicines.
Pain - head; Rebound headaches; Medication overuse headaches; Medicine overuse headaches
The most common type of headache is tension headache. It is likely caused by tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp, and jaw. A tension headache:
A migraine headache involves pain that is throbbing, pounding, or pulsating, and is on one side of your head. It usually occurs with other symptoms, such as vision changes, sensitivity to sound or light, or nausea. With a migraine:
Rebound headaches are headaches that keep coming back. They often occur from overuse of pain medicines for other headaches like migraine or tension headaches. For this reason, these headaches are also called medicine overuse headaches. People who take pain medicine more than 3 days a week on a regular basis can develop this type of headache.
Other types of headaches:
In rare cases, a headache can be a sign of something more serious, such as:
There are things you can do to manage headaches at home, especially migraines or tension headaches. Try to treat the symptoms right away.
When migraine symptoms begin:
A headache diary can help you identify your headache triggers. When you get a headache, write down the following:
Review your diary with your health care provider to identify triggers or a pattern to your headaches. This can help you and your provider create a treatment plan. Knowing your triggers can help you avoid them.
Your provider may have already prescribed medicine to treat your type of headache. If so, take the medicine as instructed.
For tension headaches, try acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Talk to your provider if you are taking pain medicines 3 or more days a week.
Some headaches may be a sign of a more serious illness. Seek medical help right away for any of the following:
Your provider will take a medical history and will examine your head, eyes, ears, nose, throat, neck, and nervous system.
Your provider will ask many questions to learn about your headaches. Diagnosis is usually based on your history of symptoms.
Tests may include:
Digre KB. Headaches and other head pain. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 370.
Garza I, Robertson CE, Smith JH, Whealy MA. Headache and other craniofacial pain. In: Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, Newman NJ, eds. Bradley and Daroff's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 102.
Hoffman J, May A. Diagnosis, pathophysiology, and management of cluster headache. Lancet Neurol. 2018;17(1):75-83. PMID: 29174963 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29174963.
Jensen RH. Tension-type headache - the normal and most prevalent headache. Headache. 2018;58(2):339-345. PMID: 28295304 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28295304.
Rozental JM. Tension-type headache, chronic tension-type headache, and other chronic headache types. In: Benzon HT, Raja SN, Liu SS, Fishman SM, Cohen SP, eds. Essentials of Pain Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 20.
Reviewed By: Joseph V. Campellone, MD, Department of Neurology, Cooper Medical School at Rowan University, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.