One method of classifying headaches divides all headaches into two types – primary and secondary. Secondary headaches are headaches attributed to something else – like allergies, or a virus, or a hit in the head. Primary headaches – where the headaches are the “primary” issue – are the other type. In primary headaches, headache and the related symptoms are what we are trying to treat. Often we don’t really understand the underlying cause.
Many secondary headaches are naturally divided up by the underlying cause. Primary headaches are another issue.
Primary headaches are usually divided according to symptoms. So we have migraine – but there are many subtypes of migraine.
The International Classification of Headache Disorders 2nd Edition lists 14 headache types, but that’s a little misleading because some of those are other headaches, into which we could put more types. In their list, there are 6 types of migraine and another 17 subtypes after that!
As time goes by and new research comes to light, things change. Once we thought all tension headaches were due to – well, tension! Now they’ve been renamed tension-type headaches because we know that tension is usually not the cause. (For more, read Just what is the “Common Headache”?
There’s a list of some types of headache here, but this list includes many names that are no longer commonly accepted. They’re on the list because some doctors still use those terms. And there are many more types we could add – probably several hundred.
Whether we say there are two types, or 14, or 300 – one important question is – which types do I have?
Notice I didn’t say “which type”, but “which types“. The fact of the matter is, it’s quite likely that you’re suffering from a combination of headache types.
Recognizing that you may have more than one type of headache will help you get better treatment. And it will partly explain why different treatments work for different people.
Tip: Try making your own classifications. Many years ago, I wrote down 6 types of headache that I had – based on symptoms. You don’t have to use official names, just try to think about how your symptoms vary. Are there common symptoms? Unusual ones? How does the headache feel different? What treatment worked?
A headache diary can help you keep track (use both sides of the page if you need to).
This information may help your doctor give you a better diagnosis.