Headaches come in many varieties, and some are easy to spot. A migraine classic causes throbbing, throbbing pain that lasts for hours – sometimes even days – on one side of the head. A tension headache usually feels like a tight band squeezing around your noggin. And a sinus headache shows up as pressure on one side of the face, behind the nose, or above one eye when you have a sinus infection.
However, some headaches are not as well known.
What is happening to me
When lesser-known headaches occur, the symptoms or patterns can be puzzling or even frightening.
For example, a thunderbolt headache (also known as “the worst headache of your life”) causes sudden, intense, debilitating pain that can last for an hour or a week.
Here are five more unusual headaches.
- Orgasmic headache. Some people experience the sudden onset of a severe headache similar to a thunderbolt headache just before or at the time of sexual orgasm. While no underlying problem is usually found, it should prompt a call to your doctor to be sure.
- Ice ax headache. The vivid picture of this headache identifies its main characteristic: sudden, short and strong pain stitches on the head. Ice pick headaches are so fleeting that they will go away long before any medication can take effect. This type of headache generally affects people who already have migraines or cluster headaches.
- New daily headache. Doctors call this headache “new” because it will develop in a person who previously had no headache problems. The onset is sudden enough that many times you will remember exactly when it started. It is “daily” and “persistent” because then it lasts indefinitely and can mimic either migraines or tension headaches.
- Paroxysmal hemicrania. Like cluster headaches, paroxysmal hemicranias persist for a while. However, the periods are shorter (10 to 30 minutes) and more frequent (five to 15 times a day). The condition is viewed as different from cluster headache because each type of headache responds differently to different drugs.
- Weekend headache. These are often caused by caffeine withdrawal, which leads to the widening of blood vessels. This type of headache often starts 12 to 24 hours after your last sip of coffee and is likely to happen over the weekend when you delay your first cup of the day or skip the coffee altogether. You can easily identify this type of headache by comparing your weekend caffeine intake to your weekday consumption.
What to do about a headache
Be aware of your symptoms when a headache occurs. If it’s sudden and intense, like a thunderbolt headache, it may indicate bleeding in the head. See an emergency doctor.
If the headache is less severe, an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be enough to relieve your pain.
However, if the headache recurs or you need to take pain medication frequently, talk to your doctor. You may not know the specific pain pattern, but your doctor will likely or refer you to a headache specialist.