Most people have had headaches. There are many different kinds of headaches, and they range from being an infrequent annoyance to a persistent, severe, and disabling medical condition.
Brain tissue itself does not generate sensations of pain, so the brain is not what hurts when you have a headache. Rather, the pain occurs in some of the following locations:
- The tissues covering the brain
- The attaching structures at the base of the brain
- Muscles and blood vessels around the scalp, face, and neck
Doctors categorize headaches as either primary or secondary. The category helps to distinguish the many different kinds of headaches and to determine right treatments for each.
Primary and Secondary Headaches
A headache is considered primary when it is not caused by another medical condition or disease. Most primary headaches fall into three main types: tension-type, migraine, and cluster headaches.
- Tension-type headache is the most common primary headache and accounts for 90% of all headaches.
- Migraines are the second most common primary headaches. Migraine is referred to as a neurovascular headache because it is most likely caused by an interaction between blood vessel and nerve abnormalities.
- Cluster headache is a less common type of primary headache that is also sometimes referred to as a neurovascular headache.
Review Date: 11/15/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.