Different Types of Headaches and Migraines

There are several types of headaches.
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If you've given much thought to what factors might encompass the different types of headaches and migraine, you probably imagine that they range from a dull throb that doesn't require pain relievers to excruciating pain that could merit a trip to the emergency room.

But did you know there are some 16 different scientific classifications involving headaches and migraine?

That's right, there are 16 of them. And some of them don't even involve head pain at all.

Here's a rundown of these different types of headaches and migraine, plus links where you can get more information on each one:

Abdominal Migraine

An abdominal migraine is a form of migraine seen mainly in children. It's most common in children ages five to nine, but can occur in adults as well, and consists primarily of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. This is one type of migraine that usually doesn't involve a headache, although children who have abdominal migraines often have migraines involving head pain when they're older.

Acephalgic or Silent Migraine

Many people are confused by the terms ​"acephalgic" and "silent" migraine. Simply put, an acephalgic migraine is a migraine with many migraine symptoms, but without an actual headache. Remember that the term "migraine" refers to a neurological disorder that often — but not always! — includes headaches.

"Alice in Wonderland" Syndrome

This is a rare form of migraine aura that causes distortions in perception. Someone with Alice in Wonderland syndrome might feel as if her body is getting smaller, then larger, or might find time seeming to speed up or slow down. Children experience this syndrome more than adults, but it can occur in people of any age.

Basilar-Type Migraine

Symptoms of a basilar-type migraine sometimes can be confused with those of a stroke: a migraine can cause speech slurring, vertigo, unsteadiness, and numbness. These unusual symptoms come on gradually before the head pain of a migraine. This type of a migraine isn't common, but one study showed it may occur in up to 10% of those who have a migraine with aura.

Chronic Daily Headache

You have a chronic daily headache if you have headaches that occur 15 or more days each month. Some 4% to 5% of people have chronic daily headache, which falls into numerous subtypes depending on your headaches' specific characteristics. If you have chronic daily headache, you're more likely to have sleep problems and to snore.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches may be the most painful headache type. They involve attacks of severe pain lasting between 15 and 180 minutes. They can occur once every other day, or even up to eight times in one day. Cluster headaches, which are diagnosed more often in men than in women, often are very challenging to treat, requiring the expertise of a neurologist or headache specialist.

Hemicrania Continua

Hemicrania continua literally is a headache that doesn't stop. It occurs on one side of the head. Pain is moderate but can spike into excruciating at times. Hemicrania continua is not considered a migraine but can share some symptoms with a migraine, including light sensitivity and nausea. Fortunately, it's relatively easily treated with a particular form of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Hemiplegic Migraine

A hemiplegic migraine is a rare form of a migraine where you experience weakness on one side of your body, possibly accompanied by confusion or speech slurring. Like the symptoms of a basilar-type migraine, hemiplegic migraine symptoms can be mistaken for stroke symptoms. One subtype of a hemiplegic migraine runs in families, but you can have the condition without a family history.

Ice Pick Headaches

Ice pick headaches are stabbing, extremely intense headaches that can be absolutely terrifying. They generally only last between five and 30 seconds. However, they come out of nowhere, can strike anywhere on your head, literally feel as if an ice pick is being stuck in your head. The pain usually disappears before you can treat it, but preventive treatment with a particular pain reliever can help.


A migraine may be the best-known headache disorder, but many people mistakenly think it's just another headache. It isn't. It's a genetically linked neurological disorder characterized by flare-ups often called "migraine attacks," and a headache is just one of the many possible symptoms you can experience with a migraine.

New Daily Persistent Headache

Doctors diagnose new daily persistent headache when someone who doesn't normally have headaches reports daily head pain that persists for three months or more. People with this condition usually can remember exactly when their headache first developed. To diagnose this type of a headache, your doctor first must rule out several other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Pseudotumor Cerebri (Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension)

Pseudotumor cerebri is a condition in which the body either produces too much of the fluid found in the brain and spine or doesn't absorb the fluid well. The result is increased pressure that results in head pain. "Pseutotumor cerebri" literally means "false brain tumor," because the symptoms of this condition mimic those of brain tumor.

Retinal Migraine

A retinal migraine causes flashes or sparkles of light, possibly combined with partial or total temporary blindness, but only in one eye. This occurs before the headache phase of the migraine starts. The head pain generally commences within an hour of these visual symptoms and can last up to three days. To diagnose a retinal migraine, your physician must rule out other possible blindness causes.

Status Migrainous

Status migrainous is a painful, debilitating migraine attack lasting for more than 72 hours. If moderate to severe migraine pain lasts more than 72 hours, with less than a solid four-hour pain-free period, while awake, it should be considered an emergency. See your doctor or — if your doctor is not available — go to the emergency room.

Tension-Type Headache

A tension-type headache is the most common form of headache, affecting nearly 80% of people. It is often described as "a band around the head." In a tension-type headache, you'll have mild to moderate pain that you can alleviate with over-the-counter pain relievers. If you have numerous tension-type headaches, your physician may consider other medications to prevent them.

Transformed Migraine

A transformed migraine begins as chronic migraine attacks, but gradually or quickly transforms into almost-daily, but less severe, head pain. Transformed migraine attacks can be accompanied by nausea, along with sensitivity to light and sound. You're more at risk for transformed migraine if you have migraine attacks more than once a week, and if you use pain relievers on a daily basis.

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