Head, Neck, & ShouldersChronic Headaches 101: Types, Triggers, and Treatments

Chronic Headaches 101: Types, Triggers, and Treatments

Chronic headaches can be defined as headaches that happen for at least 15 days in one given month and go on for a duration of at least 3 months. People who experience chronic headaches are constantly trying to understand what causes the symptoms in order to figure out how to make them better.

This is why we’ve put together the guide below on the types, triggers, and treatments for chronic headaches. Read on to learn more about this condition and what—if anything—can be done to alleviate the pain.

What Are the Types of Chronic Headaches?

types of headaches

There are many different types of headaches, but only some of these are chronic or recurring. Let’s look into 5 of the most common types of chronic headaches.

1. Cluster Headaches

First up is cluster headaches. Most commonly, cluster headaches impact one side of your head at a time. They can also cause the following symptoms:

  • Stuffy nose
  • Droopy eyelid
  • Watery eyes

These types of headaches often come and go for months on end. One of the defining characteristics of a cluster headache is that it comes on suddenly, though it also might follow a pattern and happen at the same time of day.

People who have cluster headaches describe the pain as sharp and intense. Sometimes, these headaches can cause a burning sensation on one side of your head. The pain doesn’t always last very long, luckily, but because cluster headaches are chronic, it means that the pain is unfortunately bound to return.

2. Tension Headaches

Have you ever had a headache in the front of your head that feels tight, as though a band was constricting around your forehead? If so, you’ve probably experienced a tension headache. These are one of the most common headaches that people have. Typically, they are caused by tight muscles throughout the neck, shoulders, and scalp.

Tension headaches aren’t always chronic, but for some people, they are a constant issue. In these cases, it’s best to try to be proactive by implementing strategies to stop the headaches before they begin. Some helpful tips to do this include:

  • Being mindful of your posture
  • Changing your sleep positions
  • Stretching tight muscles
  • Avoiding headache triggers (bright lights, skipping meals, using drugs or alcohol, etc.)

3. Hemicrania Continua

Hemicrania continua is a daily, persistent headache that usually occurs on the same side of the head each time. Some people with this condition do experience pain on both sides of the head, but most typically, the pain sticks to one side.

This pain can be described as sharp, shooting, or stabbing pain. This condition can be acute, meaning that it happens periodically and can be resolved, or chronic, which would mean that it comes back.

Medical experts say that hemicrania continua can often be treated with an anti-inflammatory medication. However, for people who have the chronic form of this condition, it can be challenging to find a medication that is safe to take for long periods of time while still being effective.

This is why it’s important to utilize other treatment approaches as well. Avoiding headache triggers is essential. For this condition specifically, health experts advise people to avoid using alcohol and drugs, as these substances can make the headaches worse or appear in greater frequency.

4. Migraine Headache

Another very common type of chronic headache is a migraine—research indicates that as many as 20 percent of adults will have a migraine headache at some point in their lives. Now, this doesn’t mean that the headaches are chronic. What would make this condition chronic would be having a migraine for at least two weeks (consecutively or non-consecutively) out of the month.

For many people, migraine headaches come with daily, persistent pain. Migraines often come with a lot of other symptoms as well, such as:

  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Auras
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision

As these symptoms show, chronic migraines can be debilitating. Some people who get chronic migraine headaches end up needing work accommodations because they are unable to look at a computer screen or make the commute into the office as a result of the pain. In some instances, medication can help—though taking medication can actually result in another type of chronic problem: rebound headaches.

5. Rebound Headaches

Next up is rebound headaches. These headaches sometimes go by another name: medication overuse headaches. As both of these names suggest, the headaches that happen come as a result of something else—in this case, the use of medication to treat head pain.

Unfortunately, the pain medication that people turn to when they have headaches can do more harm than good. Research shows that when people take medicine for periodic headaches, the headaches end up coming back more frequently. This then becomes a chronic headache concern.

Additionally, a lot of people who experience chronic pain in general end up getting rebound headaches. This is because certain medications, like prescription painkillers, come with headaches as a side effect. Then, they might take more, whether that’s over-the-counter solutions or prescribed medication such as opioids, to try to combat the headache. Unfortunately, this gets a lot of people stuck in the cycle of chronic medication overuse headaches.

One way to address these headaches would be to try to phase out using medication for pain relief. Of course, this is easier said than done. But there are tactics that can work, including:

  • Massage
  • Neck stretches
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic care
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Speaking with others who understand chronic headaches
  • And more.

Is There Treatment for Chronic Headaches?

Treatment for Chronic Headaches

Luckily, there are many different treatment options for chronic headaches. Of course, this will depend on the type of headache you have as well as the symptoms you are experiencing. Certain treatments, like pain medication, can be helpful to some people but harmful to others. This goes for any treatment, including the ones listed above. This is why it’s important to talk to your doctor before trying any new treatment options.

It can also be useful to get input from others who know what it’s like to live with chronic headaches. These are conversations you can have with the Pain Resource Community. Learn more about chronic headaches, how to avoid things that trigger headaches, and, most importantly, how to cope with the strain that having headaches can bring.

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