Dr Samuel Bolitho

Headache Disorders

Headache disorders encompass a wide range of conditions that involve pain or discomfort in the head and sometimes the neck. These conditions can vary in severity, frequency, and underlying causes.

Regrettably, headaches are often misdiagnosed as the sheer number of different types of headaches can be difficult to differentiate without recognised sub-specialised training. This can lead to patients suffering for significant periods of time on incorrect treatments.

Headache disorders are among the most common neurological conditions worldwide, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. They vary in severity, duration, frequency, and underlying causes, and can be classified into two main categories: primary and secondary headaches.

Types of Headache Disorders

  • Primary headaches are standalone illnesses caused directly by the overactivity of or problems with structures in the head that are pain-sensitive, such as migraines, tension-type headaches, and cluster headaches.
  • Secondary headaches are symptoms that happen when another condition or illness stimulates the pain-sensitive nerves of the head, such as a sinus infection, head injury or hypertension (high blood pressure).

List of Common Headache Types

Primary Headaches:

  • Overview: Most common type of primary headache.
  • Types: Chronic and episodic tension-type headaches.
  • Causes: Muscle tension, stress.
  • Symptoms: Dull, aching head pain; sensation of tightness or pressure across the forehead or on the sides and back of the head.
  • Treatment: Over-the-counter pain relievers, stress management, massage, hot or cold packs.
  • Overview: Characterised by intense, throbbing pain usually on one side of the head.
  • Types: With/without aura, chronic, menstrual, hemiplegic, retinal.
  • Causes: Genetic, environmental factors; triggers include stress, certain foods, hormonal changes.
  • Symptoms: Throbbing pain, light and sound sensitivity, nausea, sometimes visual disturbances (aura).
  • Treatment: Pain relief medications, preventive medications, lifestyle modifications, avoidance of triggers.
  • Overview: Rare, more painful than migraines, affects mostly men.
  • Types: Cluster headache, Paroxysmal Hemicrania, SUNCT (Short-lasting Unilateral Neuralgiform headache attacks with Conjunctival injection and Tearing), Hemicrania Continua.
  • Causes: Unknown, possibly related to the body’s biological clock.
  • Symptoms: Severe burning and piercing pain, usually around one eye; redness in the eye, swelling, and sweating on the affected side.
  • Treatment: Oxygen therapy, triptans, preventive medications.

Types: Cough, hypnic, thunderclap, cold-stimulus, external pressure, nummular, etc.

Secondary Headaches:

  • Overview: Occur with sinus infection.
  • Causes: Sinus inflammation.
  • Symptoms: Pain in the cheekbones, forehead, or bridge of the nose; worsens with movement.
  • Treatment: Treating underlying infection, pain relievers, decongestants.
  • Overview: Linked to hormonal fluctuations, more common in women.
  • Causes: Menstrual cycle, birth control pills, pregnancy, menopause.
  • Symptoms: Migraine-like symptoms, often with a monthly pattern.
  • Treatment:NSAIDs, hormone therapy, lifestyle changes, preventive medication.
  • Overview: Triggered by physical activity.
  • Causes: Intense exercise, sexual activity, straining.
  • Symptoms: Short-lived, throbbing headaches.
  • Treatment: Pain relievers, rest, preventive medications if recurrent.
  • Overview: Caused by overuse of headache medication.
  • Causes: Frequent use of pain relief medication.
  • Symptoms: Chronic headaches, often worse in the morning.
  • Treatment: Gradually reducing medication, seeking medical advice.
  • Types: Trauma or injury, cranial or cervical vascular disorder, non-vascular intracranial disorder, infection, disorder of homeostasis, attributed to psychiatric disorder, etc.

If you have a headache disorder that is not well managed, and you are looking for options to improve your quality of life, please make an appointment with Dr Bolitho for an examination.

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Dr Samuel Bolitho is a Sydney Neurologist with sub-specialised training in movement disorders, essential tremor and Parkinson’s Disease. He brings a rare mx of medical, neurological and computational neuroscience expertise to his role, as well as a wealth of experience in biomedical engineering.