There are various different kinds of headache disorders. Although not all headaches are caused by the same disorders or external triggers, there is one thing that they all have in common: they cause pain that can be absolutely debilitating and negatively impact a sufferer’s quality of life on every level.
However, many headaches also cause other awful symptoms, some of which are tied to a specific headache disorder and others that can accompany any kind of headache. We’ve assembled this list of common headache symptoms to help you better understand your headache disorder and its common symptomatology.
1. Head Pain
The first and most obvious symptom of a headache is pain. The pain of a headache can be sharp and stabbing or dull and aching. It can be barely noticeable or so significant that it’s all you can do to focus on anything else. It can be isolated to one area of the head or all over, spreading into the neck, shoulders, arms, and upper back.
Generally speaking, migraine headaches will present as a throbbing, pulsating pain on one side of the head, while cluster headaches are concentrated behind the eyes and tension headaches produce a tightness that spreads across the forehead like a headband of a hat that’s too tight.
2. Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea is an unsettling sensation in the stomach that produces a queasy or uneasy feeling that can be all-consuming. It generally precedes the act of vomiting and is thought to be the body’s way of telling you to not continue or repeat whatever activity you are currently involved in–whether eating questionable berries in the woods or riding an extreme roller coaster.
Vomiting is the body’s way of forcibly expelling, either voluntarily or involuntarily, the contents of the stomach through the mouth. In headache disorders, nausea and vomiting are very common with migraines but less common in other primary and secondary headache disorders. The uneasy feeling of nausea is one of the calling cards of a migraine attack.
3. Sensory Sensitivity
Another hallmark symptom of headache disorders is a heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and smells. During a headache, things that would never bother you can be absolutely unbearable–think the sun shining into your room through a window, the sound of children playing, or the smell of your favorite pungent dish. This increased sensitivity can also play into the above-mentioned nausea and vomiting, as the sensory overload produced by this heightened state of sensitivity can cause or exacerbate this distress. Interestingly, one of the most common triggers for headache attacks is also specific sights, sounds, and smells, so these sensory inputs can both start and worsen an attack.
The overwhelming pain and discomfort caused by a significant headache can lead to exhaustion during and after the episode. Fighting through a headache, even with the assistance of curative therapies like medication or relaxation, is a physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing experience. This takes a toll on the body as a whole and leads to fatigue and exhaustion that can take hours or days to recover from.
Dizziness is a common but somewhat vague symptom of headache disorders. It is often described by some people like the feeling of being off-balance or lightheaded, while others describe it as the sensation that their surroundings are spinning out of control. This feeling most often accompanies migraines and cluster headaches but can be present with tension headaches as well.
6. Neurological Symptoms
Even though headaches do not originate within the brain, they can produce a variety of accompanying neurological symptoms. These can include things like blurred vision; numbness or tingling in the face, neck, arms, and hands; sensations of extreme temperature; visual disturbances called auras; and, in extreme cases, temporary paralysis. If you experience neurological symptoms with your headaches, you should seek medical attention immediately as these are serious complications that should be managed by a medical professional.