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"I Have A Headache"…Now What Should I Do?: Knowing Headache Type Can Help Identify Prevention and Treatment

In today’s world, almost anything could give a person a headache. The term "headache" is used and often overused to describe a reaction to life’s general frustrations. For those people who suffer from headache related pain, identifying it as "I have a headache" is not specific enough to find relief. In order to find the appropriate treatment to alleviate headache pain, it is critical to delve deeper and identify a specific headache type.

Determining what type of headache a person suffers from is the first step to finding appropriate treatment. According to a recent survey by the National Headache Foundation (NHF), 73 percent of headache sufferers reported experiencing more than one type of headache. For this majority, it is essential to determine headache type in order to develop a specific treatment regimen. While migraine was the most common and well-known type of headache in the survey, with 60percent of respondents claiming it as a type they suffer from, it is important to get a diagnosis by a healthcare professional to determine what type of headache you actually have.

Seventy-three percent of NHF survey respondents reported taking initiative to determine their headache type and learn more about their condition. Of this group, 57percent took matters into their own hands and conducted personal research via the Internet and reading healthcare magazines. Of the 86 percent of respondents who consulted a healthcare professional on this issue, 59 percent were successful in gaining a diagnosis of a specific headache type.

"Educating yourself on different types of headache is important, said Dr. Lisa Mannix, Board Member, National Headache Foundation and practicing physician. "However, it is best to make an appointment with your healthcare professional to obtain an accurate diagnosis and to establish the appropriate treatment plan."

Healthcare professionals can educate the 41 percent of survey respondents who reported not knowing that medication and non-medication treatment options are available for headache symptoms. Thirty-eight percent of respondents use the simplest non-medication treatment available to alleviate their headaches: sleep. Massage is another example of a non-traditional treatment option used by 16percent of the survey participants. Healthcare professionals may also recommend medication treatments such as the over-the-counter pain relievers used by 48 percent of respondents or prescription medications used by 1 5percent of the respondents.

Additional NHF Survey Results:

  • After Migraine headaches (60 percent), the next most common type among respondents was Tension-type headaches with 37 percent
  • 28 percent of the survey participants suffer from Chronic Daily headache
  • 23 percent of respondents reported suffering from Sinus headaches

The 21 percent of survey respondents who reported not knowing what type of headache they suffer from represent headache sufferers nationwide who could benefit from prevention andtreatment options that come from determining their headache type.

The following list of characteristics of common headaches can help keep you keep track of your symptoms which you can share with your healthcare professional.

Characteristics of Common Headaches:

Migraine headache is characterized by any or all of the following symptoms: pulsating or throbbing pain typically on one side of the head, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, and visual disturbances. The attacks may last four to 72 hours.

Tension-type headache is the most common form of headache with symptoms of dull, aching, and non-pulsating pain that affect both sides of the head and can vary in frequency and severity.

Chronic Daily Headache is often characterized by a headache that occurs more than 15 days a month for a period of at least three months.

Sinus headache symptoms may include tenderness over the sinus, a deep dull ache exaggerated by head movements or straining accompanied by nasal discharge, ear sensation or fullness, and facial swelling.

NHF Suggestions to Determining Your Headache Type:

  • Keep a headache diary. Identifying patterns among headache triggers, timing, duration and pain level and location offers useful information to share with your healthcare professional to help determine the headache type you are dealing with.
  • Educate yourself about headache. Specific headache resources are available on the NHF Web site ( to educate sufferers on possible headache types, symptoms, and potential treatment options.
  • Educate yourself about treatment options; both medication and non-medication. Treatments can have varying results from patient to patient so it is important that a sufferer understands how each option may work for them on an individual basis.
  • See your healthcare professional. Make an appointment to specifically discuss your headaches with your healthcare professional.

The NHF founded in 1970, is a non-profit organization which exists to enhance the healthcare of headache sufferers. It is a source of help to sufferers’ families, physicians who treat headache sufferers, allied healthcare professionals and to the public. The NHF accomplishes its mission by providing educational and informational resources, supporting headache research and advocating for the understanding of headache as a legitimate neurobiological disease.1-888-NHF-5552

For more information on the NHF, visit

© 2008 Health Resources Publishing