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6 types of headaches you had no idea existed

Lisa Fogarty


Lisa Fogarty

Lisa Fogarty has written numerous articles for USA Today, The Stir, Opposing Views and other publications. She has covered everything from red carpet events to the discovery of toxic PCBs on school windows. She lives on Long Island, N.Y....

Just when you thought you knew everything about headaches, here are some you've never heard of

The next time you complain to someone about your splitting headache, it might be worth your time to stop and think about the type of headache that has taken possession of your body like a wild demon. All headaches are not the same, and by categorizing them as "migraines" and everything else, we're simplifying the universe of headaches in a way that could be preventing us from getting help for our pain and identifying headache triggers.

You probably already know all about tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches, but here are six more headache types that should be on your radar.

1. Rebound headaches

Brace yourself. There's a category of headache that is caused by taking too many medications to cure your other kind of headaches, thus suggesting you may be better off meditating or taking a nap instead of popping a pill. “The patient may feel that by routinely taking a certain medication they are achieving headache relief, they may in fact be predisposing themselves to recurrent headaches,” says Dr. Ilan Danan, a neurologist at the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine.

“The medications most commonly linked to rebound headaches include acetaminophen, aspirin and combination medications that contain caffeine. When it has been determined that any of these agents have been overused, discontinuation of the offending medication is warranted. This will often lead to what is considered a withdrawal headache. It is the withdrawal headaches that lead the patient towards medication overuse in the first place.”

Hang in there. Danan says it can take 8 to 12 weeks before the medications have been cleared out of the patient’s system, at which point, a more structured approach to headache treatment is then pursued.

2. Depression headaches

Depression isn't just an emotional and mental issue. If you suffer from chronic depression, the body sometimes responds with pains, aches, and depression headaches. To treat both depression and the headaches that can accompany it, doctors often prescribe tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

More: What it's like to live with the searing pain of cluster headaches

3. Sexual exertion headaches

OK, the clinical term for these kinds of headaches is exertion headaches, but since a high-energy sexual tryst, as well as other forms of excessive exercise, are responsible, we prefer to call them sex headaches. Ninety percent of these headaches are related to cluster and migraines — consider them their less annoying second cousins — and something as seemingly harmless as sneezing too much or straining when moving your bowels can cause them.

Prevent them by taking frequent breaks between workout routines and by treating them with aspirin. In rare cases, diseases like blood vessel malformations and tumors can cause them, so be sure to visit a doctor if you experience exertion headaches on a regular basis.

4. Hypertension headache

A hypertension headache is described as a generalized or "hairband" headache that is usually worse in the morning and then slowly goes away throughout the day. Make sure you get your blood pressure checked regularly and take prescribed blood pressure medicine to prevent these headaches and other more serious symptoms that can arise.

5. Migraine with aura

Sounds like a lovely problem to have but a migraine with aura is not magical. An ordinary migraine usually involves throbbing pain on one side of the head, but a migraine with aura brings with it "warning signals" that include numbness in the arm or leg and visual disturbances — all of which typically go away within 30 minutes when the real pain begins.

Doctors suggest rushing in with remedies like biofeedback, ergotamine and dihydroergotamine as soon as symptoms appear. Common causes include a family background of migraines with aura, birth control pills or menopausal hormones, stress, smoking and even certain foods (cheese, red wine, soy sauce, chocolate and foods with MSG are often blamed).

More: 6 headache hacks that don't involve drugs

6. Post-traumatic headache

It's easy to confuse post-traumatic headaches with migraines or tension headaches, but these differ in that they often occur every day and relief isn't found by simply taking a Tylenol and relaxing. The pain can start to occur after even a minor trauma, but it's difficult for doctors to pin down the cause and properly diagnose it. The best way to handle this is by preventing a buildup of stress caused by trauma (seek a therapist's help and stay open to alternative wellness treatments). Once you have these headaches, they can be helped with anti-inflammatory drugs, propranolol and biofeedback.

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