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Signs and Symptoms of Headaches

Headache symptoms vary by individual, cause, and type. The following are common symptoms of tension-type headaches, migraines and cluster headaches that may be helpful in understanding the pain and accompanying signs being experienced.


There are several stages that may or may not be experienced as part of a migraine attack. Symptoms of the prodrome, a warning stage that precedes the intense pain of a migraine headache in an estimated 50 percent of cases, include an altered mood and excessive fatigue, yawning and sleepiness. Depression and irritability may also be experienced during this stage. The following stage, which does not always occur, is the aura, which is experienced in 20 percent of cases and can also occur along with the pain. The aura is marked by visual symptoms including flashing lights, a zigzag pattern or a blind spot. The pain or headache stage of a migraine is often described by sufferers as intense, pounding or throbbing pain felt in the temples, forehead, around the eye or back of the neck or head. The pain is usually felt on one side of the head, though may be present on both sides. During this stage of a migraine, a person will frequently also experience nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and/or sound, and diarrhea. A migraine attack typically lasts between several hours to several days. Weakness, sleepiness and pain in the area where the headache occurred are symptoms associated with the postdrome, the final stage of a migraine.

Tension-type headaches:

This most common type of headache is marked by mild to moderate pain in the head or neck. A tension-type headache can also cause symptoms of aching muscles as well as sensitivity to light or sound. The pain can cause irritability in the headache sufferer and an inability to concentrate. It may also make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep, possibly resulting in fatigue. Tension-type headaches may present periodically, daily or recurring more than once per day. Chronic tension-type headaches are experienced as a constantly present pain that varies in severity throughout the day. Tension-type headaches typically respond well to over-the-counter pain relief medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen.

Cluster headaches:

The term "cluster" refers to the fact that this type of headache manifests in a number of headaches that occur periodically followed by a period of remission. Cluster headaches may occur daily for days, weeks or months, usually during the same time each day, followed by a period of time without headaches. The pain is severe, comes on suddenly and quickly worsens, peaking in about 5 to 10 minutes of onset. The pain is often described as sharp, burning, intense and steady, and almost always occurs on one side of the head, often behind the eye, in the temple, sometimes radiating to the nose or down the neck or shoulder. The time of day a cluster headache occurs is usually a few hours after an individual has fallen asleep, although they may occur during daytime waking hours.

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