Tension, Migraine, and Cluster Headaches: What Are the Differences?

Sep 29, 2022
Tension, Migraine, and Cluster Headaches: What Are the Differences?
Are your headaches brought on by stress or poor diet? Are they seasonal or chronic? Different types of headaches cause different symptoms. It’s important to understand each kind so you can get properly diagnosed and treated.

It’s tough to get treatment for your headaches if you don’t know what’s causing them or even what category they fall into. There are over 150 kinds of headaches, and it’s important to know the differences between them so you know how best to overcome the pain.

Our team at Valley Neurology PLLC is composed of headache experts, and we want you to be informed about the most common types of headaches so you can move forward with a treatment plan. The most common headaches fall into the categories of tension, migraine, and cluster.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are brought on by stress. Symptoms for this type of headache usually consist of a dull ache all over your head. Tension headaches don’t tend to be triggered by anything specific, and the pain can come and go.

Tension headaches are broken up into two categories: episodic and chronic. Episodic tension headaches are infrequent and occur less than 15 times in a month. Chronic tension headaches happen much more often, and you may have more days with headaches than not, more than 15 a month.

Migraine headaches

Migraine headaches stem from a neurological disorder and present in four phases: prodrome, aura, pain, and postdrome. The pain phase can last from 4-72 hours and usually sticks to one side of your face. These headaches can also cause sensitivity to light, smell, and sound, as well as cause nausea and vomiting.

About one-third of people who have regular migraine attacks experience symptoms of “aura” before the headache comes on. These symptoms can include seeing stars, flashing or shimmering lights, or blind spots.

Migraine attacks may be brought on by triggers like dehydration, sleep disruption, missed meals, or hormone fluctuations. It’s possible to have acute attacks every so often or chronic attacks, which occur more frequently than 15 times a month.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches cause the most severe head pain. They’re often characterized by severe burning and piercing pain on one side of the head. Those who experience cluster headaches have other symptoms like swelling and nasal congestion on the side of their head where the headache is located. 

They’re called cluster headaches because they come in groups. As soon as one goes away, another follows. A cluster period can last for months, with the pain lasting 15 minutes to three hours, with up to eight attacks a day.

Doctors aren’t sure what triggers cluster headaches, but they do tend to be more common in the spring and fall.   

The bottom line

Headache pain can be debilitating and affect your quality of life. If you suffer from constant headaches, it’s important to seek help so you can get your headaches properly diagnosed and treated.

At Valley Neurology PLLC, we want you to live as pain-free as possible by setting up a treatment plan that’s best for you. To take the next steps, call our office at 509-517-6390, or use our online scheduling tool to set up an appointment today.