Headache Charts

Access a comprehensive Headache Chart to understand headache types, locations, and meanings. Download your free PDF here.

By Olivia Sayson on May 19, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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Headaches are a common and often debilitating condition that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. They can range from mild and occasional to severe and chronic, significantly impacting an individual's quality of life (Burch et al., 2018). Understanding the different types of headaches, their causes, and effective management strategies is crucial for healthcare practitioners to provide comprehensive patient care.

Printable Headache Chart

Download this Headache Chart to help clients manage and treat headache-related issues.

What causes headaches?

Headaches occur due to various causes, from environmental factors to underlying medical conditions. Understanding the potential triggers and sources of headaches is crucial for effective management and treatment. Here's an overview of some common causes:

1. Stress and tension

Stress and muscle tension are among the most prevalent causes, particularly tension-type headaches (Mollaoğlu, 2013). Chronic stress can lead to prolonged neck, shoulders, and scalp muscle contraction, resulting in dull, non-pulsating pain. For instance, an exertion headache is caused by physical activity or exertion that leads to a sudden increase in blood pressure and rapid expansion of blood vessels.

2. Hormonal changes

Fluctuations in hormone levels, such as those experienced during menstrual cycles, pregnancy, or menopause, can increase the likelihood of headaches, especially migraines. These hormonal shifts can affect neurotransmitter levels and pain perception pathways.

3. Diet and food triggers

Certain foods, drinks, and food additives have been linked to headache episodes, particularly migraines. Common triggers include aged cheeses, chocolate, processed meats, and beverages containing caffeine or alcohol.

4. Environmental factors

Changes in weather patterns, exposure to strong odors, bright lights, or loud noises can trigger common headaches in some individuals (Pellegrino et al., 2018). These environmental stimuli can influence the sensitivity of pain receptors and neurotransmitter release.

5. Sleep disturbances

Lack of sleep, disrupted sleep patterns, or excessive sleep can contribute to headaches. Sleep is crucial in regulating various physiological processes, and disruptions can impact pain perception and sensitivity.

6. Underlying medical conditions

In some cases, headaches can be a symptom of underlying medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, sinus infections, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, neck and spine problems, brain tumors, aneurysms, or meningitis (Becker, 2017). These conditions may cause secondary headaches due to inflammation, pressure, or structural abnormalities.

7. Medication overuse

Overuse or excessive consumption of pain relief medications, particularly those containing caffeine or other vasoconstrictors, can lead to medication overuse headaches (MOH), a type of chronic daily headache.

What are the different types of headaches?

Tension headache

Underlying medical conditions do not cause primary headaches but instead arise from problems with pain-sensitive structures in the head and neck. Tension headaches are the most prevalent form of primary headache, characterized by a dull, non-pulsating pain that often feels like a tight band around the head. A tension-type headache is typically caused by neck, shoulders, and scalp muscle tension, usually triggered by stress or poor posture.


Migraine headaches are a severe form of primary headache disorder characterized by throbbing pain, typically on one side of the head. They are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Various factors can trigger a migraine headache, including hormonal changes, stress, and certain foods (Burch et al., 2018).

Cluster headache

A cluster headache is relatively rare but excruciatingly painful and occurs in cyclical patterns or "clusters." It is characterized by intense, severe pain typically concentrated around one eye or temple. Cluster headaches are often accompanied by additional symptoms such as tearing, nasal congestion, and facial flushing.

Sinus headache

Sinus headaches are caused by inflammation and congestion in the sinus cavities. Sinus headache pain and pressure are usually felt around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead. They are often associated with a sinus infection or allergies and may be accompanied by nasal discharge or fever. Sometimes, nasal polyps (benign growths in the nasal passages) can contribute to sinus headaches and related symptoms.

Medication overuse headache

A medication overuse headache, or rebound headache, is a chronic daily headache that can result from the overuse of pain relief medications, including over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

Secondary headache

An underlying medical condition or injury, such as head or neck trauma, brain tumors, stroke, or infectious diseases like meningitis, causes secondary headaches. These headaches may have distinct features and require prompt medical attention to address the underlying cause.

Thunderclap headache

While most headaches are not life-threatening, intensely painful headaches, often described as the "worst headache of one's life," may indicate a serious underlying condition. These severe headaches, known as thunderclap headaches, require immediate medical attention to rule out potentially dangerous causes, such as subarachnoid hemorrhage or cerebral venous sinus thrombosis.

Occipital neuralgia and cervicogenic headaches

Occipital neuralgia is a condition characterized by intense, shooting, or electric-shock-like pain that originates from the occipital nerves, which run from the base of the skull to the shoulder muscles. The pain is often described as sharp, jabbing, or burning and can radiate from the back of the head to the neck, shoulders, or behind the eyes.

A cervicogenic headache, on the other hand, originates from disorders or injuries in the cervical spine (neck) region. These headaches can cause unilateral (one-sided) pain radiating from the neck to the back of the head, forehead, or around the eye. Cervicogenic headaches are often accompanied by stiff neck or tenderness in the neck muscles.

How can healthcare providers diagnose headaches?

Accurate diagnosis is crucial for determining the exact cause of pain and effective treatment of headaches. Healthcare practitioners typically follow a comprehensive approach to diagnose different types of headaches, which involves:

  • Medical history: A detailed medical history is obtained, including information about the frequency, duration, location, and intensity of headaches, as well as other symptoms, including migraine-like symptoms, jaw pain, piercing pain, and double vision.
  • Physical examination: A thorough physical examination is conducted, which may include checking for signs of muscle tension, tenderness, or other neurological deficits.
  • Diagnostic criteria: Healthcare providers rely on established diagnostic criteria, such as those outlined in the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD-3), to differentiate between various types of headaches.
  • Imaging tests: In some cases, imaging tests like computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be ordered to rule out underlying structural abnormalities and to examine specific headache locations.
  • Headache diary or chart: Patients may be asked to maintain a headache diary or chart to record detailed information about their headache episodes, including onset, duration, severity, location, associated symptoms, and potential triggers. This information can help identify patterns and guide the diagnostic process.

What is a Headache Chart?

A Headache Chart, also known as a headache diary or log, is a valuable tool for tracking the patterns, triggers, and symptoms associated with headaches over time. This comprehensive approach helps individuals experiencing headaches and healthcare providers understand the frequency, duration, intensity, and potential causes of headache episodes.

Maintaining an accurate and detailed Headache Chart allows patients to participate actively in their care. It also provides healthcare practitioners with valuable information to develop a personalized treatment plan, identify potential triggers, and monitor the effectiveness of interventions.

How can you treat headaches?

Treating headaches effectively often involves a multifaceted approach tailored to the specific type of headache and the individual's needs. Here are some common strategies for managing headaches:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers and prescription medication can provide headache relief. However, it's important to avoid medication overuse, which can lead to medication overuse headaches.
  • Lifestyle modifications, such as stress management techniques, regular exercise, and identifying and avoiding personal headache triggers, can help reduce the frequency and severity of headaches.
  • Preventive treatments, including antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and blood pressure medications like calcium channel blockers or beta-blockers, may be recommended for individuals with frequent or chronic headaches.

Why use Carepatron as your Headache app?

Carepatron offers many features that could be incredibly beneficial for monitoring and managing headaches. With our electronic patient records, healthcare providers can practice detailed record-keeping, which can be crucial for tracking headache patterns and improving treatment effectiveness.

Our automation of administrative work streamlines the process of headache tracking. Carepatron's appointment reminder software ensures that patients can adhere to their treatment plans and keep track of their progress.

Carepatron's all-in-one approach to healthcare work makes it a convenient choice for modern healthcare practitioners. Ready to make a change in how you deliver care? Sign up today for free!

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Becker W. J. (2015). Acute migraine treatment in adults. Headache, 55(6), 778–793. https://doi.org/10.1111/head.12550

Burch, R., Rizzoli, P., & Loder, E. (2018). The prevalence and impact of migraine and severe headache in the United States: Figures and trends from government health studies. Headache, 58(4), 496–505. https://doi.org/10.1111/head.13281

Mollaoğlu M. (2013). Trigger factors in migraine patients. Journal of Health Psychology, 18(7), 984–994. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105312446773

Pellegrino, A. B. W., Davis-Martin, R. E., Houle, T. T., Turner, D. P., & Smitherman, T. A. (2018). Perceived triggers of primary headache disorders: A meta-analysis. Cephalalgia, 38(6), 1188–1198. https://doi.org/10.1177/0333102417727535

What do headaches mean based on location?
What do headaches mean based on location?

Commonly asked questions

What do headaches mean based on location?

Headaches can provide clues about their type based on their location. For instance, tension headaches often cause tightness around the forehead or sides of the head, while migraines typically involve throbbing pain on one side. Cluster headaches are characterized by severe pain around one eye, and sinus headaches usually cause pressure around the forehead, nose, and eyes.

How can I identify my headache?

Identifying your headache involves paying attention to symptoms and location. Tension headaches may present as a constant ache in the back of the head with muscle stiffness. At the same time, a migraine episode often involves throbbing pain on one side, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Consulting a healthcare professional for a detailed evaluation and diagnosis is essential for appropriate treatment.

What are the four most common headaches?

The four most common types of headaches are tension, migraines, cluster, and sinus. Understanding these common headache types based on their symptoms and locations can aid in proper diagnosis and management.

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