About 90 percent of men and 95 percent of women experience at least one headache a year. However, some people have headaches that occur often and can greatly affect their quality of life. If you suffer from headaches, it is important to be able to identify and understand the type of headache you may be having

What are the types of headaches?

Headaches are divided into two main groups: primary and secondary. More than 90% of headaches are primary. Secondary headaches are those caused by specific medical conditions. Primary headaches are divided into the following types:

Tension headaches – Tension headaches make up about 75% of primary headaches. Up to 90% of adults have suffered from a tension headache at one time or another. Symptoms for tension headaches can include the following:

• Dull ache – Tension headaches are usually a steadyache instead of a throbbing pain

• Pain on both sides of the head – This mild to moderate pain usually affects both sides of the head at the same time and is sometimes described as a band or vice tightening on the head.

• Muscle tightness – Tension headaches are often accompanied by tight muscles especially in the neck and shoulders.

• Migraine Headaches – Migraines are by far the most debilitating form of headaches as they disrupt a person’s ability to function normally. Time lost at both work and home is a major effect of migraine headaches. Approximately three million Canadians suffer from migraine headaches – three quarters of these are women. A migraine headache often has two phases. The headache phase, which can last from hours to days;and the post-headache stage during which the person is physically exhausted and
Cluster Headaches – Cluster headaches are a rare type of headache that affect only about one percent of the population – mostly males with a history of heavy smoking or drinking. Symptoms of cluster headaches can include the following:

• Aura – This is a stage at the onset of a migraine where
the sufferer can have neurological symptoms such as visual disturbances, numbness, dizziness, ringing in
the ears and or weakness on one side of the body.

• Localized throbbing or pulsing pain – This pain is moderate to severe and is usually on only one side of the head often near the eye. Occasionally it moves from side to side or affects both sides.

• Nausea and/or vomiting – Migraine suffers may feel and look very sick along with the headache pain.

• Sensitivity to light, sounds and odours – It is very common for a migraine sufferer to be sensitive to light, sounds and smells. Many people with migraines will try to stay in a dark quiet room until the headache subsides.

• Sinus and allergy headaches – People who suffer from sinus headaches and pain can often get relief using decongestants, antihistimines or other allergy medication. The symptoms of sinus/allergy headaches can include the following:

• Pain around sinuses – The mild to moderate pain is concentrated in the sinus area, above and below the eyes.

• Ache in teeth – The pressure of a sinus headache can often make teeth ache as well.

• Seasonal or weather related – Sinus and allergy sufferers are affected at specific times of the year or with specific weather conditions.

Cluster Headaches – Cluster headaches are a rare type of headache that affect only about one percent of the population – mostly males with a history of heavy smoking or drinking. Symptoms of cluster headaches can include the following:

• Severe pain for a brief period – Described as sharp and stabbing, it usually lasts a short time 10 minutes to 2 hours.

• Occur in clusters – These headaches come in groups of about 1 to 4 a day for several days or weeks. They often happen at the same time every day during the cluster. They can stop for months and reappear when you least expect them.

• Localized pain – The pain is usually concentrated around one eye, which will also be watery and can be accompanied by a stuffy or runny nose.

What causes headaches?

What actually causes headaches is unknown. People who get headaches are affected by different things. These things, known as triggers, stimulate the body to begin a process that results in a headache. Below are some common headache triggers:

Stress – This is the most common headache trigger for both men and women and often results in tension or migraine headaches. Studies have shown that chronic or day-to-day stress is actually what causes more headaches than single life altering events. Research has also shown that women suffer more from day-to-day stress than men and have more stress induced headaches.Job stress and financial stress are also known triggers for tension related headaches.

Diet – Some people who skip meals and eat poorly suffer from headaches. Others can get headaches from things they eat or drink like chocolate, processed foods or red wine.

Sleep patterns – Lack of sleep, over sleeping and napping can cause headaches in certain people.

Environment – Several environmental factors are known headache triggers. The weather, smog, strong odours such as perfume or chemicals, and flashing or bright lights can induce headaches.


Migraines are by far the most debilitating form of headaches as they disrupt a person’s ability to function normally.