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Signs and Symptoms of Headache & How Long Do Headache Symptoms Last? | Identifying the Type of Headache

Pain in the forehead region and the scalp are the common symptoms of headache. Most cases of headache and its accompanying symptoms do not require immediate medical attention but if the frequency of headache is more accompanied by severe pain in the head, or after a trauma to the head and neck region or is accompanied with SOB, stiff neck, fever then it is better get yourself evaluated by an headache specialist at the earliest.

Symptoms of Migraine Headaches

Pain Intensity Evaluation of Headache Based on the Symptoms:

  • Symptoms of Mild Intensity Headache – Barely noticeable.
  • Symptoms of Moderate Intensity Headache- Does not interfere with work or activities.
  • Symptoms of Severe Headache- Distracts from work or activities.
  • Symptoms of Very Severe Headache- Difficult to maintain normal activities.
  • Symptoms of Incapacitating Headache- Unable to concentrate, needs to go to emergency room or see physician immediately.[1]

Symptoms of Migraine Headaches

How Long Do Headache Symptoms Last?

Frequency of Headache Symptoms:

  1. Symptoms of low frequency headaches last less than 15 days in a month.
  2. Symptoms of high frequency headaches last more than 15 days.[2]

Duration of Headache Symptoms:

  1. Short duration headache symptoms last less than 4 hours.
  2. Symptoms of long duration headache last more than 4 hours.

Diagnosis of Type of Headache Based on Frequency and Duration of Its Symptoms

Low Frequency and Long-Duration Headache Could be a Sign of:

  1. Migraine
  2. Episodic Tension Type Headache.

High Frequency and Long-Duration Headaches Could Be a Sign of:

Low Frequency and Short Duration Headache Could be a Sign of :

  1. Episodic Cluster Headache (not triggered by cough or exercises)
  2. Valsalva or Headache Triggered By Cough, Exercises or Valsalva

High Frequency and Short Duration Headache Could be a Sign of:

  1. Chronic Cluster Headache.
  2. Chronic Paroxysmal Hemicrania.
  3. Hypnic Headache.
  4. SUNCT Syndrome.
  5. Valsalva or Headache Triggered by Cough, Exercises or Valsalva.[3]

Identifying the Type of Headache Based on Age and Gender

  • Headache in young adults of age around 40 is more often a sign of cluster headache.
  • Men are more likely to suffer from more common cluster headaches, it is 2 to 3 times more often than women.
  • Headache in women aged 60 or more, is more likely a sign of Migraine headaches.[4] This type of headache is influenced by fluctuations in estrogen and other female hormones in females.

Identifying the Type of Headache Based on Lifestyle and Personal History

  • Symptoms of Headache in Nicotine Dependent (smoker) can be a sign of Cluster Headache.
  • Symptoms of Headache in Alcohol Abuser can also be a sign of Cluster Headache.
  • Professional Stress – Sign of Tension Headache and Cluster Headache.
  • Symptoms of headache after drinking red wine can be indicative of Cluster headache.
  • Discontinuation of smoking or drinking alcohol does not eliminate attacks of headache once it is established.

Identifying the Type of Headache Based on Medical History & Following Signs and Symptoms

  • Headache accompanied with Swollen Eyes and Lacrimation can be a sign of Cluster headache.
  • Headache accompanied with running nose and lacrimation – Cluster headache.
  • Headaches accompanied with Aura can be a Migraine.
  • Headache after Physical Activities can also be indicative of Migraine.
  • Bilateral Headache – Tension headache.

Type of Headache Based on Family History and Genetic Factors

Cluster and migraine headaches tend to run in families, suggesting a genetic component may be involved in some cases. About half of people with migraine headache have a personal or family history of migraine. Studies have reported that about 15% of patients have both kinds of headache.[5]

Type of Headache Based on Head Injury

Type of Headache Based on Sleeping Disorders

Identifying the Type of Headache Based Signs of Sleeping Disorders

Cluster headaches have been observed during specific sleep stages. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy tend to be followed by cluster headache or migraine headache. Patients who are unable to sleep (insomnia), commonly tend to suffer with cluster or migraine headache.[6] Sleep hypoxia secondary to sleep apnea may trigger physiological events causing cluster headache during sleep. Sleep hypoxia triggered cluster headache may continue its symptom behavior during daytime mostly during late afternoon. Most of the patient with history of sleep apnea causing cluster headache have responded well to the treatments like CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure ventilation). Sleep study is extremely important investigation in patient with history of cluster headache that is not responding to medication treatment.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 7, 2022

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