Chapter 4, Episode 1: Do I Have a Headache Disorder?


This content has been medically reviewed by Vera Gibb, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, AQH, CCTP.

Some headaches can occur from stress, lack of caffeine or after drinking an ice cold beverage. But how can you tell if what you are experiencing is actually a headache disorder such as tension headache, migraine, cluster headache or new daily persistent headache? We’ll cover the basic symptoms of each and what to do if you are having frequent attacks.


Approximately 70% of the population will experience the most common type of headache called tension headache. This is often described as pressing or tightening pain that waxes and wanes, with mild to moderate intensity on both sides of the head and is not aggravated by physical activity. People do not typically experience nausea or vomiting but they may have either light or sound sensitivity. The headaches can last for 30 minutes to 7 days without treatment or may be chronic.1


A migraine attack is typically characterized by pulsating, one-sided head pain with moderate to severe intensity that may be aggravated by physical activity. In addition, people experience nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light, sound and/or smell. Attacks typically last 4-72 hours. 

Some people with migraine may have an aura before, during or after the headache. Symptoms typically last from 5 minutes to 1 hour and can include temporary vision changes, numbness or tingling, and/or changes in speech. 


New daily persistent headache is often described as a headache that begins one day and never goes away. Most people will remember the day it began, and it lasts months to years.


Cluster headache is considered to be one of the most severe pain conditions. The intense pain occurs on one side of the face typically around the eye, above the eye or in the temporal area. A person may have other symptoms on the same side as the pain including tearing or redness of the eye, a drooping or swollen eyelid, nasal congestion or a runny nose, forehead and facial sweating or a constricted pupil. They may have restlessness and/or agitation during the attack and often pace around the room. During a cluster period, a person may have from one to 8 attacks per day, each lasting 15 minutes to 3 hours. 

There are over 150 types of headache disorders, each with their own set of symptoms. It is helpful to use a headache diary to track the number of headache days per month, headache characteristics and associated symptoms. This can help a clinician determine the headache type, make an accurate diagnosis, and choose the best treatment options. 

A primary care provider, OB-GYN or pediatrician is typically first consulted when a person is experiencing headaches. However, they may refer patients to a neurologist or a headache specialist for more complicated or chronic headache disorders. 

For more information, visit

This video is sponsored in part by Lundbeck.



*The contents of this video are intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. AMD does not recommend or endorse any treatment, products, or procedures mentioned. Reliance on any information provided by this content is solely at your own risk.