A headache is defined as a pain radiating from anywhere in the head and/or the neck. There are no tests that can be used to confirm a headache diagnosis so physicians divide headaches into two categories to understand if they are linked to specific causes: primary and secondary headaches.
Primary headaches are more common and are not the consequence of an underlying condition. Instead, they can be caused by genetic or environmental factors. Examples of primary headaches include migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches.
Secondary headaches are related to underlying conditions such as brain tumors, inflammation, aneurysms or systemic illnesses. It is critical to identify these types of headaches as a symptom of a potential life threatening condition. Consequently, many examinations such as neurological exams, CT scans and MRIs of the brain or neck can be administered to identify the underlying cause of the headache.
Secondary headaches can also be linked to pre-existing conditions. For example, trauma or injury to the head or neck, substance abuse or withdrawal, cranial or cervical vascular disorder, infections or psychiatric disorders can be responsible for the development of headaches.
Various methods exist to treat the different types of headaches and current research strives to find better treatment to help relieve the pain that many people suffer from.