Headache (headache): types, causes and risk factors

Pain in the face, eyes, sensitivity to noise, light and smell are symptoms that can be caused by headache, popularly known as headache .

With the hustle and bustle of daily life, stress and poor diet, it is not uncommon to experience this type of problem, which, according to the Brazilian Headache Society (SBC), affects about 70% of the population, mainly in the 20 to 40 age group.

Although most people experience headache episodes throughout their lives, when it lasts for days there may be something wrong, which needs to be investigated by a specialist.


What is headache disease?

Headache, popularly known as headache, consists of pains in the skull region. Its main characteristic is to feel a kind of pressure on the head, which can vary in intensity, being stronger or weaker.

This condition is capable of occurring at any age and its causes may include an emotional factor, use of some medication, poor diet, among others.

Headache is divided into two types: primary (when there are no diseases or disorders that cause it) and secondary (when it is caused by another disease or condition).

The diagnosis is based on the patient’s clinical history (symptoms, frequency, duration and reported complaints), and physical and neurological exams can be used for confirmation.

Since pain can have different causes, sometimes finding its source is difficult. Therefore, it is up to the general practitioner or neurologist to assess the patient.

There are several medications and treatments for headache on the market, in addition to other non-medicated resources that can help reduce and relieve constant pain.

In ICD-10 (International Disease Code), headache and is found by the codes:

  • R51 – Headache;
  • G44.2 – Tension headache;
  • G44.3 – Daily chronic headache;
  • G43.83 – Migraine;
  • G43.83 – Migraine with aura;
  • G44.803 – Headache associated with cough;
  • G44.804 – Headache associated with exercise;
  • G44.805 – Headache associated with sex.

But, after all, what is headache?

Headache, or headache, is any condition that causes pain, latency, weight or pressure in the head region. In such cases, you can still engage and focus on the temples, forehead, top or the entire region.

The headaches can be prolonged or punctual (in cluster), they can appear in great intensity or moderately. All of them, regardless of whether they are symptoms or a disease (such as migraine ) are called headaches.

What are the types of headache?

Headache is divided into two types, which can be classified as primary or secondary. Its characteristics are:


This type of headache usually occurs due to stress or excessive physical activity and is generally unrelated to other diseases.

People who have a family history of frequent headache are more likely to suffer from this type of pain.

Primary headache can be:

Cluster headache

It is characterized by intense pain on one side of the head and usually causes pain around the eye, which can cause watering, swelling and redness in the region.

Its occurrence is considered rare compared to other types and the pain is usually more intense.

It mainly affects adult men, around 20 to 40 years old, and occurs mainly at night, being able to wake the individual from sleep with pain.


Migraines can appear at any age, but severe attacks usually show signs in adolescence and early adulthood, being more common in women.

This type of headache is characterized by severe, throbbing pain on only one side of the head. Along with it come symptoms such as intolerance to noise and light, and craving, which can also cause vomiting.

Migraine attacks do not have a maximum duration and can last for a few hours and reach days.

Among the triggers capable of triggering pain are some foods and drinks, such as chocolate and alcohol.

Migraine with aura

In addition to causing headache, this type of migraine affects the person in the sensitive or visual part, causing symptoms such as blurred vision or with luminous scratches, bright spots and flashes. It is also common to feel a numbness in the tongue, hands and arms.

Tension (tension) headache

Tension headache can be caused by situations of emotional or physical tension – such as stress or exaggerated contraction of the muscles of the shoulders, neck and skull -, but there are also indications that there may be brain changes in the processing of pain.

In general, the most accepted today is that patients with chronic tension pain suffer from the association of these two causes.

This type of headache does not cause nausea, but involves symptoms such as heaviness or tightness under the head, irritability, sensitivity to noise and pain located in the neck and neck.

Chronic daily headache

Chronic daily headache occurs due to abuse of painkillers, and can last for more than 15 days in a period of 3 months.

Generally, people who have this type of headache have emotional conditions such as mood disorder, depression , anxiety or agitation.

Cough-associated headache

This condition is associated with the flu period, in which the person made a lot of effort to cough, thus causing the headache. It is common to appear in people over 40 years old.

Exercise-associated headache

The headache can arise due to physical effort and occur in two ways: from exercises (such as lifting weights, running, swimming) or by sudden and short efforts (such as coughing, crying, sneezing).

The condition is more common to manifest in males.

Gender-associated headache

In this case there are two types of headache associated with sex, they are:

Pre-orgastic headache

It is characterized by appearing at the beginning of the sexual act, the pain may be little and increase as the act continues. It is compared to tension-type headache, which can last from hours to days.

Orgasmic headache

This headache starts moments before or during orgasm, usually appears in the frontal region of the head, in an intense way. It can last for minutes or a few hours, being more common in men between 30 and 50 years old.

Spinal Post

This type of headache consists of pain after a person has undergone spinal anesthesia (anesthesia applied mainly in cesarean sections and surgical procedures on the hip or lower limbs).

Unlike other headaches, the one caused after spinal anesthesia is characterized by low intracranial pressure. This makes the patient feel pain relief when lying down – as blood flows easily to the head – and worsens again when he gets up.


It is characterized by a headache with observable causes, which can be associated with diseases, such as cerebral aneurysm and sinusitis , or traumas in the region close to the head.

Most of these pains go away when the primary problem (the disease or condition that causes it) is treated.

When there is suspicion, the diagnosis is made with a careful observation of the medical and family history, followed by several tests, for example, for infections, aneurysms, hemorrhages and tumors.

Is headache a headache?

Yes, headache is just the popular name for headache. Both refer to the same condition of pain, weight or pressure in the head region, which can be primary or secondary, according to the classification.

What is headache or holocranial headache?

The term holocraniano designates pain or pressure in which it covers the whole head. Generally, it is used for diagnoses of more severe conditions, when the patient has severe pain, which does not improve with the use of analgesic medications.

What is the difference between headache and migraine?

Headache is the medical name for headache. It covers all cases where the patient feels pain or pressure in the skull region and, therefore, there are several types of headache.

Migraine, on the other hand, is one of these types, considered a chronic pain. Among the causes or triggers of migraines are hormonal changes, hunger, excess caffeine or stress.

So, basically, headache is the symptom, while migraine is one of the diseases that cause headache .

Causes of headaches

The most common causes of primary or secondary pain are:

Primary headaches

Some conditions that can cause primary headaches are:

  • Stress;
  • Exaggerated heat;
  • Unregulated sleep;
  • Consumption of food such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate, among others;
  • Skip meals;
  • Bad posture;
  • Excessive effort;
  • Strong smells.

Secondary headaches

The conditions that trigger secondary headache are diverse and can include:

  • Injuries or trauma to the cervical or skull region : for example, mild, moderate or severe head trauma, crashes, accidents;
  • Vascular alteration in the cervical or skull region : for example, ischemic stroke, hemorrhage not caused by trauma, arthritis in the brain region, genetic diseases;
  • Non-vascular alteration : for example, intracranial hypertension, non-infectious meningitis, neoplasms, epileptic seizures;
  • Substance use or deprivation : for example, use, abuse or withdrawal from drugs, alcohol or medications;
  • Infection : for example, bacterial meningitis, fungal infection, viral infection;
  • Disturbances in the neck, skull or face : for example, glaucoma, changes in vision, inflammation in ligaments of the skull;
  • Psychiatric disorders : for example, psychosis.

Risk factors

People with a family history of headache are more likely to have the symptom. In addition, women are often more affected than men.

Other factors that can trigger the dreaded headaches are:

  • Abuse of the use of medicines;
  • Vision problems;
  • Anxiety;
  • Depression;
  • Trauma and head injuries;
  • TPM;
  • Daily stress;
  • Problem sleeping and resting.

Headache symptoms

Some symptoms can occur associated with headache, such as:

  • Nausea;
  • Pressure on the skull;
  • Weight on shoulders and neck;
  • Vomiting;
  • Irritability;
  • Blurry vision;
  • Dizziness;
  • Visualize light spots or streaks;
  • Sensitivity to light, noise and smells.

Diagnosis: what is the test to detect headache?

The diagnosis is made based on exclusion, in which other diseases are ruled out through clinical investigation and examinations when necessary. The use of medication, lifestyle, eating habits and quality of sleep are also important in determining the type of pain.

Headache can be diagnosed by a general practitioner or neurologist .

In some cases, tests to help identify the cause may be ordered, such as:


The test is used as a complementary diagnosis, usually indicated when the patient does not respond well to treatment or there are changes in the type of pain.

The procedure, which is non-invasive, takes about 30 minutes and allows you to observe the structures of the skull, as well as assess abnormalities.

Computed tomography

A CT scan of the skull allows the doctor to assess the brain and the structures of the neck and face. It is generally recommended when accidents or traumas, infections, tumors or nodules occur, which may be the sources of pain.

The exam is quick, takes about 10 minutes, and consists of a non-invasive procedure.

Blood test

In some cases, blood tests may complement the diagnosis, but are usually ordered when diseases or infections are suspected.

Among the most common are blood count , blood glucose and hormone rates.

Is there a cure?

It depends . Some types of headache can be cured with medications and clinical treatments, such as tension headache and headaches associated with cough , exercise and sex, as long as the cause of the problem is eliminated.

Other types, such as cluster headache, migraine with aura, chronic daily headache, can be alleviated and controlled, reducing episodes of pain.

How to treat headache?

Mild headache attacks can be treated with rest, but other measures may be necessary:

One-off treatment

When the pain starts, one of the most common resources is the use of medications for immediate relief, which may include painkillers and anti-inflammatory painkillers, for example.

Despite being a common measure, the use should always be made with a medical prescription , avoiding self-medication and frequent use.

Patients suffering from recurrent pain may be recommended, by the doctor, to use drugs that help prevent the onset of crises. In such cases, the framework must be assessed individually.

Complementary therapies

The use of alternative or complementary therapies can be combined with pain relief. In general, they are activities that should be practiced together with treatment and medical monitoring, but that promote relaxation.

Acupuncture, relaxation, massage or stretching can alleviate stress, work on specific areas of the head and reduce pain.

Psychological therapy

If your headache is due to a lot of work, stress, depression and anxiety, psychological counseling can be a good alternative to learn how to deal with feelings and routine.


Known for its effectiveness against wrinkles and expression lines, botox can be used to treat headache. When applied to certain parts of the head (close to the ears, eyes, neck and neck), the procedure acts on the muscles and reduces pain in approximately 15 days.

But it is noteworthy that medical consultation and indication is necessary, being only one of the options to assist in the treatment of pain.

Medicines: what is the remedy for headache?

Medicines used to treat mild headache cases may include:

  • Ibuprofen ( Atrofem , Advil , Alivium );
  • Acetylsalicylic acid ( AAS Protect );
  • Dipyrone monohydrate ( Anador , Dipimed );
  • Diclofenac sodium ( Artren , Desinflex, Biofenac ).

For moderate pain or migraine, options may include:

  • Dihydroergotamine ( Cefaliv , Enxak );
  • Zolmitriptan ( Zomig );
  • Rizatriptan benzoate ( Maxalt ).

Other drug groups that can be prescribed, depending on the cause of the pain, are:

  • Simple beta-blockers ;
  • Anticonvulsants ;
  • Antidepressants.


NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained on this site is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.

Living with headache

Headache is very uncomfortable, but with some tips it is possible to live and lead a peaceful life, even with a history of headaches:

Discover the cause of your pain

If you suffer a lot from stress, mood disorders, PMS or eat foods that do not fit well in the stomach, analyze and classify what is the main reason that can cause your headache.

By discovering what triggers or facilitates the onset of crises, it is easier to avoid them.

For example, if there is a business meeting that requires attention, take a deep breath, have a peaceful night’s sleep the day before, distract your mind and eat well.

Pay attention to food

Eating foods rich in nutrients and vitamins helps your body to function better, as well as your mind. Try to consume fruits, vegetables and legumes, and not have an eye bigger than the belly, that is, overeating and feeling ill afterwards.

Also avoid foods with a lot of fat, with a lot of sugar or salt in their composition, and industrialized foods that can generate a trigger for the onset of headache. Prefer freshly made, fresh and natural foods.

Have a good night of sleep

People who suffer from headaches often have a more sensitive mind than others. So when you go to rest, the ideal is to sleep in a place without noise, without light and comfortable for your body.

In this way, it is possible to get a good night’s sleep, waking up refreshed.

Prognosis: Is there an improvement for the headache?

Headache, when not associated with serious illnesses (such as brain tumors), generally does not cause greater health risks.

Despite having a high impact on people’s daily lives, it is a condition that can be treated, making it possible, in most cases, to alleviate the problem and have a good quality of life.

Complications: what can the headache cause?

In general, isolated crises do not cause health risks or have major impacts on the person’s routine. However, if the pain is constant, well-being and quality of life are greatly affected.

Headache can cause irritation and difficulty in maintaining activities, generating greater impacts on emotional health.

However, the pain may be associated with specific serious conditions, such as nerve compressions, autoimmune diseases or tumors. In such cases, complications involve the primary cause of the symptom.


With some tips it is possible to prevent the dreaded headaches:

No exaggeration in the remedies

Only use medication when it is really necessary to relieve the pain. If in any discomfort you take the medicine, your body may get used to it and respond less and less to the medication action. Therefore, take only what is prescribed by your doctor at the right time.

Practice physical exercises

Performing some physical activity of your choice helps release endorphin (a neurotransmitter related to well-being) and decreases the number of seizures. Walking, stretching and even dance lessons can help.

Eat well

For those who have headache attacks it is necessary to eat every 3 hours, as hunger can be associated with pain. Carry a cereal, fruit or nut bar to keep your stomach empty.

Attention to your sleep hours

For our brain to function smoothly, it takes 6 to 8 hours of sleep a day. Less than that can trigger a headache, in addition to hindering the development of activities during your day. So, prioritize your sleep.

Common questions

Is tension or tension headache severe?

In general, the picture is not intense enough to prevent the person from maintaining his activities. The pain for being uncomfortable, causing discomfort, irritation and general pain in the head.

Sporadic or infrequent episodes may occur, but prolonged conditions may occur for more than 15 days per month.

In general, they are pain triggered by stress, sleepless nights, anxiety or changes in mood and routine.

What is the CID of headache?

In the International Classification of Diseases, headache can be found under the code R51, remembering that it can also be due to other conditions, such as migraine, which is under the code G43.