What causes the different types of headaches?

There are actually 150 different types of known headaches[1] and they are one of the most common health complaints. A headache can be an issue on its own, known as a primary headache or it could be a symptom of something else, known as a secondary headache. They all vary in length and intensity and whilst some are just a dull pain in the back of your head, others can be more severe. 

In this article we will talk through the most common types of headache and what the possible causes and cures could be.


These headaches are the most common amongst teenagers and adults. They could be caused by a variety of things but are usually a result of either stress, bad posture, dehydration, skipping meals or tiredness.

To try to prevent these sort of headaches make sure that you are eating and drinking enough as well as getting enough sleep. Try to maintain a good posture and relax from stress with activities like Yoga. These sorts of headaches can also be treated with over the counter painkillers.


Migraines can sometimes last for days and can be so painful that you can’t get on with your normal day-to-day activities. They commonly come with other symptoms like light or noise sensitivity, nausea or vomiting. The exact cause of migraines is unknown. It is possible that your genes make you more likely to experience migraines as a result of a specific trigger.

Migraines can be triggered by strenuous exercise if you're not used to it, or even certain foods so it may well be worth keeping a food diary to help you work out what foods to avoid. These sorts of headaches can be relieved with over the counter painkillers like Nurofen but you may need to see a GP for alternative medications.


These are a rare type of headache but are intensely painful. They are named cluster headaches as they can usually occur every day, in bouts lasting several weeks or months at a time, before they subside. They have been known to start over the same months of each year, often affecting people in the spring or autumn[2].

Usually felt as a burning pain, cluster headaches affect one side of the head at a time. The pain will typically be felt around the eye, temple and sometimes face.

Cluster headaches are sometimes so unbearable that when they begin, sufferers become unable to stand still and take to pacing the room, taking a walk outside or even banging their head against a wall to deal with the pain[3]. You should see your GP as soon as possible the first time you experience what you think may be a cluster headache. 


Your sinuses are small air spaces in your skull that allow air to circulate. A sinus headache is a result of these areas becoming inflamed which makes it harder for mucus to drain and increases pressure within the sinuses, they’re often at their worst in the morning because fluids have been collecting all night.

These headaches can be easily confused with migraines or tension headache as symptoms are similar, but sinus headaches usually come with other symptoms. They are usually felt as a constant throbbing in the cheeks, eyes and forehead area of the face, you may also have a runny nose or a fever and can feel much worse with any head movements.

Working out which type of headache you have is important to help you decide on its treatment. Whilst the majority of headaches are not a sign of something serious and can easily be treated with small lifestyle changes for over the counter painkillers (for tension headaches and migraines) such as Nurofen Express. If they persist it is a good idea to book in to see a GP.

Nurofen Express 200mg liquid capsules/256mg tablets/256mg caplets. Contains ibuprofen. For pain relief. Always read the label.