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All About Primary Headaches

Scott Loeb DO
Medically reviewed by Dr. Loeb
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Scott Loeb DO
Medically reviewed by Dr. Loeb

Chances are you know exactly what headaches are. And most likely, you have already encountered them more than once. Headache is a disease and a very common one. People of all ages and professions may experience this disease. But there is a different type of this problem – primary headaches. It is a special type, which can be especially debilitating. A primary headache is not an underlying disease. Rather, it is a disease in itself.

There are several basic primary headache types. Each type has its unique characteristics. They may affect a person differently. For example, tension headaches are usually caused by muscle tension. They may feel like a tight ring around the head, while primary migraine is often accompanied by severe pain on one side of the head and may be accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light.

In this article, we will delve into the subject of primary headaches. We will examine types of primary headaches, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment. By understanding primary headaches, you can manage your symptoms better. You will be able to find relief from this often distressing condition.


What Is the Cause of Primary Headaches?

When a person experiences a headache, the first question is why. Some scientists believe that you feel primary headaches for several reasons. Some of the reasons are a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Researchers have not yet fully understood the underlying mechanisms of the disease. But they proposed theories that led to the development of primary headache types.

The first theory talks about abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain. They help regulate pain, mood, and other bodily functions. Primary migraine can cause an imbalance in neurotransmitter levels. For example, low serotonin levels are associated with migraines and other primary headaches.

The second theory talks about changes in blood flow to the brain. With migraine, for example, the blood vessels in the brain may temporarily narrow. A re-expansion follows this. It causes the characteristic throbbing pain. Except there are medications to defend this theory! Drugs that constrict blood vessels are effective in treating migraine.

Environmental factors can also play a role in the development of primary headaches. Some things can provoke or aggravate headaches. These can be, for example:

  • Stress.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Certain foods.
  • Certain drinks. 

Due to hormonal changes, you can also get primary migraines. It can be during your menstrual cycle or pregnancy. 

Overall, the exact cause of primary headaches is not fully understood. It varies between individuals and primary headache types. However, understanding the potential underlying mechanisms can help you. You can develop treatment approaches and improve the treatment of primary headaches.

Types of Primary Headaches

Primary headaches are a broad category of headaches. But the difference is that these headaches are not caused by an underlying disease or injury. There are several types of primary headaches, including:

  • Migraine Headache.
  • Tension Headache.
  • Cluster Headache.

There are also some other primary headache types. Other primary headache types include trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia. Also, you may find other, even rarer, types of headaches. For example, there may be hemicrania continua and new daily persistent headaches.

The treatment of primary headaches may be different for each person. It depends on the type and severity of the headache. In some cases, over-the-counter pain relievers may be effective. In other cases, prescription medications or other interventions may be needed to manage the symptoms and prevent future headaches. For example, you may require nerve blocks or lifestyle changes. Let’s take a closer look at each type of primary headache.

Migraine Headache

Primary migraine is a type of primary headache. About 12% of the population suffers from this type of problem. We can characterize migraine as intense and throbbing pain. People usually feel it on one side of the head. You may feel uncomfortable pain in conjunction with other symptoms.

Doctors believe you get a migraine because of changes in the brain and blood vessels. During a migraine, there may be a temporary narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain. Then there is a re-expansion of the blood vessels. It is these factors that cause the characteristic throbbing pain. 

Also, you can provoke primary migraine by various other factors. These can be various defects in your health, such as:

  • Hormonal changes.
  • Stress.
  • Certain foods or drinks.
  • Changes in your sleep patterns.
  • Changes in the weather.

Migraine treatment may include over-the-counter or prescription medications. Remember, you cannot prescribe your treatment for primary headaches. Your doctor should do this. Your doctor can write you a prescription:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Triptans
  • Prophylactic drugs.

Doctors may also ask you to change your lifestyle. They will recommend that you avoid provoking factors and get enough sleep regularly. These can all help prevent or reduce the frequency of migraines.

Tension Headache

Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache. About 80% of the population suffers from this problem at some point in life. 

Tension headaches are often caused by head, neck, and shoulder muscle tension. You can get these from stress, poor posture, or lack of sleep. You can also get them from certain foods or drinks, such as:

Treatment for tension headaches may include over-the-counter pain relievers, such as:

  • Acetaminophen.
  • Ibuprofen.
  • Etc.

Your doctor may also prescribe stress management techniques, such as:

  • Relaxation exercises.
  • Massage
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.

Lifestyle changes can also help prevent primary headaches of this type. In some cases, doctors may recommend prescription medications or other interventions. For example, your doctor may prescribe nerve blocks or acupuncture.

Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are a rare type of primary headache that affects less than 1% of the population. We can describe these headaches as extremely unpleasant pain. People feel this pain on one side of the head. These primary headaches are extremely rare. But their rarity, they compensate for their duration. The pain lasts for weeks or months, after which there are periods of remission.

Scientists believe cluster headaches relate to disorders in the hypothalamus. The part of the brain regulates the biological clock and other body functions. But the exact cause of these abnormalities has not been fully elucidated. Genetics and environmental factors may play a role.

The patient often describes cluster headaches as “drilling” or “burning” pain. And unfortunately, these primary headaches can also include symptoms.

Treatment of cluster headaches may include:

  • High-flow oxygen therapy.
  • Taking triptan drugs.
  • Or nerve blocks.

In some cases, doctors may prescribe prophylactic drugs. These may include verapamil or lithium. You can take these to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.


Symptoms of Primary Headaches 

So you know what primary headaches are and what their types are. What primary headaches have in common is that an underlying disease does not cause them. But, each of the three types of primary headache has different symptoms.

It is important to note that not all headaches are primary. Headaches can also be secondary. That is, you get it because of a medical condition. For example, it could be sinusitis, head trauma, or medication overuse. 

Are you experiencing frequent or severe headaches? It is important to see a healthcare provider for an evaluation. The healthcare provider will help determine the underlying cause of your headaches. They will develop an appropriate treatment plan.

It is essential to take headaches seriously. Frequent or severe headaches can interfere with daily activities and quality of life. Here are the symptoms you should pay attention to:

Migraine Headache

Here are the symptoms you may experience with primary migraine:

  • Intense throbbing or pulsing pain, often on one side of the head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, or smells
  • Blurred vision or aura (flashing lights, zigzag lines)

Tension Headache

Here are the symptoms you may experience with these primary headaches:

  • Mild to moderate pain or pressure that feels like a band around the head
  • Tightness or stiffness in the neck or shoulder muscles
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Fatigue

Cluster Headache

Here are the symptoms you may experience with these primary headache types:

  • Excruciating pain that often starts suddenly and is usually located around one eye
  • Redness and watering of the eye on the affected side
  • Stuffy or runny nose on the affected side
  • Restlessness or agitation

Are you experiencing a sudden or severe headache, a headache that interferes with your daily activities? Contact us for help! At our Lone Star Neurology clinic, you will find the best doctors. We know exactly how to help you. Contact our clinic today. We can help you get rid of your pain.


  • What are the three types of primary headaches?

The three types are tension-type, migraine, and cluster headaches.

  • How do I know what kind of headache I have?

To begin with, pay attention to the symptoms. Be sure to consult a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

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Edward Medina
Edward Medina
15:34 30 Jun 22
Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
Daneisha Johnson
Daneisha Johnson
22:20 19 May 22
Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been more
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper
16:54 29 Apr 22
I love the office staff they are friendly and very helpful. Dr. JODIE is very caring and understanding to your needs... and wants to help you. I will go back. would recommend Dr. Dr. Jodie to other Patients in a heart beat. The team works well more
Linda M
Linda M
19:40 02 Apr 22
I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
Leslie Durham
Leslie Durham
15:05 01 Apr 22
I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
Monica Del Bosque
Monica Del Bosque
14:13 25 Mar 22
Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your more
Ron Buckholz
Ron Buckholz
23:32 23 Mar 22
I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
Steve Nabavi
Steve Nabavi
16:28 16 Mar 22
It was a nice visit. Happy staff doing all they can do to comfort the patients in a very calming environment. You ask... me they are earned a big gold star on the fridge. My only complaint they didn't give me any more
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis
16:10 10 Feb 22
Had very positive appointments with Jodie and Dr. Sheth for my migraine care. Jodie was so fast with the injections and... has so much valuable info. I started to feel light headed during checkout and the staff was SO helpful—giving me a chair, water, and taking me into a private room until I felt better. Highly recommend this practice for migraine patients, they know what they’re doing!!read more
Joshua Martinez
Joshua Martinez
16:02 10 Dec 21
I was scheduled to be checked and just want to say that the staff was fantastic. They were kind and helpful. I was... asked many questions related to what was going on and not once did I feel as though I was being brushed off. The front desk staff was especially great in assisting me. I'm scheduled to go back for a mri and am glad that I'll be going more
Isabel Ivy
Isabel Ivy
21:42 03 Nov 21
I had such a good experience with Lone Star Neurology, Brent my MRI Tech was so awesome and made sure I was very... comfortable during the appointment. He gave me ear plugs, a pillow, leg support and blanket, easiest MRI ever lol 🤣 My 72 hour EEG nurse Amanda was also so awesome. She made sure I was take care of over the 3 days and took her time with the electrodes to make sure it was comfortable for me! Paige was also a huge help in answering all my questions when it came to my test results, and letting me know her honest opinions about how I should go forth with my more
Leslie Luce
Leslie Luce
17:37 20 Oct 21
The professionalism and want to help attitude of this office was present from the moment I contacted them. The follow... up and follow through as well as their willingness to find a way to schedule my dad was above and beyond. We visited two offices in the same day with the same experience. I am appreciative of this—we spend a lot of time with doctors and this was top notch start to more
robert Parker
robert Parker
16:38 16 Apr 21
I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 more
MaryAnn Hornbaker
MaryAnn Hornbaker
00:26 25 Feb 21
Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his more
Roger Arguello
Roger Arguello
03:05 29 Jan 21
Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best more
Margaret Rowland
Margaret Rowland
01:12 27 Jan 21
I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my more
Susan Miller
Susan Miller
03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
Windalyn C
Windalyn C
01:32 09 Jan 21
Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
Katie Kordel
Katie Kordel
00:40 09 Jan 21
Jodi Moore, nurse practitioner, is amazing. I have suffered from frequent, debilitating headaches for almost 20 years.... She has provided the best proactive and responsive care I have ever received. My quality of life has been greatly improved by her caring approach and tenacity in finding more
Ellie Natsis
Ellie Natsis
15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
Matt Morris
15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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