Virtual Headache Specialist

Comprehensive Headache Chart: Locations and Symptoms of Different Headache Types

headache chart with location of headache chart meaning

I can picture it now. You’re sitting there late at night breaking out into a cold sweat, heart racing, convincing yourself a brain tumor is the cause of your headache as you are Googling your severe headache location, symptoms, and meaning. Are they migraine headaches, cluster headaches, tension headaches, sinus headaches, or something else? Is the headache from secondary headaches (caused by other medical conditions), such as sinus infections, or a problem with the blood vessels? Wouldn’t it be great to have a quick way to find a diagnostic guide that includes a headache chart for pain area to evaluate for common types of headaches and the main types of primary headaches?

 

Let me tell you a BIG secret…

 

Headaches are not diagnosed only by their location, but also by the “company they keep”. In other words, the various features of headache symptoms such as specific characteristics of head pain, patterns, and symptoms that go with the headache are the most important pieces of information to narrow down the most likely headache types. Headache location by itself without any other symptom information is useless.

 

The International Headache Society classifies every headache type according to the headache and all of the associated features. Each headache type must match a specific set of characteristics and associated symptoms per the criteria. Headache location is only one of many features taken into account. The type of headache then determines the best headache treatment guide.

 

By combining the headache location with associated symptoms, patterns, and characteristics of the pain, it can then be more accurately narrowed down. This makes choosing the correct treatment plan more accurate and effective. This is absolutely key!

 

The end result is that you are on a more effective path to improvement rather than throwing “headache” pills randomly at a headache that hasn’t been given a specific name. Thus, the treatment being used may not be the treatment that your specific type of headache needs (and sometimes can even make worse). I see this scenario in my headache clinic every day given the shortage of headache specialists.

 

Let’s take migraine as one example. Migraine can vary widely in its location between patients and between attacks within the same patient. Any one of those Googled headache location terms you’re looking up potentially could represent migraine. Those locations could also represent many other different types of headaches as well. Many of those other headache types would require a different type of treatment or evaluation than migraine would.

 

The headache location doesn’t fully match with migraine until you combine it with the required criteria of associated symptoms that make the migraine diagnosis. These other symptoms include things such as nausea, sensitivity to light (photophobia), sensitivity to sound (phonophobia), throbbing or pounding pain, moderate to severe pain intensity, worsening with exercise, one sided location, and of course ruling out other more concerning “secondary” causes of the headaches that may require more urgent medical attention. Secondary causes of headaches might include other symptoms such as double vision or exertion headache, and require an evaluation with your doctor.

 

So clearly, Googling the headache location alone doesn’t help you figure out the cause or type of the headache at all, nor the most effective treatment. The bottom line is that location of pain alone doesn’t narrow down the type of headache or facial pain that you have. The associated symptoms and patterns that go with the headache are the keys to deciphering between the possible headache types.

 

For all these reasons, I created a FREE headache and facial pain symptom checker. The purpose is to help and provide you with more personalized self-research with a list of possible headache types. This list can be discussed with your doctor. My hope is to help you and your doctor have a more useful discussion of possible headache types to think about, as well as better treatment considerations.

 

Remember, any type of headache and facial pain requires an office visit and physical examination with your doctor. There is no way around this requirement. This symptom checker tool is purely educational to provoke discussions of possible headache types. However, bad causes of headache can present as mild and simple headache disorders such as migraine. So, a visit to your doctor to evaluate your headache is a mandatory step.

 

When you are trying to narrow down the type of headache or facial pain you may have, the following characteristics and symptoms must be taken into consideration. These are the key questions a headache specialist will ask you in the office. Go through the following list of headache features and symptoms, think about each one, and write down your responses. I created this headache symptom checker tool to simulate a visit with a headache specialist.

 

If you have different types of headaches, it is important to focus on and think about only one type at a time (even though they are typically different manifestations of the same underlying headache disorder).

 

1) Location of pain

Pain location is only one of many important characteristics of a headache disorder. Without factoring in the associated symptoms, patterns, and characteristics, it is quite useless alone. I have broken down 8 general patterns of headache and facial pain locations to choose from. Go through the following headache location charts and pick the one that is most consistent with your headache or facial pain location.

 

These are screenshots from the first step of the headache and facial pain symptom checker tool. There may be some variation to your attacks and the location may vary between different attacks, so pick the one which summarizes the areas involved most commonly for the particular type of headache you are analyzing.

 


Forehead, Cheek, Temporal (not variable)

  • The headache is 100% always on 1 side only.
  • It never alternates between 1 side and the other side.
  • It never involves both sides of the head at the same time.

 


Forehead, Cheek, Temporal (variable)

  • The headache is variable in location.
  • It may alternate between 1 side or the other side of the head at different times.
  • It may commonly occur more often on 1 side or the other, however, it is not 100% always on the same side.
  • It may sometimes involve both sides of the head at the same time as well.

 

Chin

  • Beneath the angle of the lower jaw, back of the throat or tonsils, back/base of the tongue, inside ear, or deep in the ear.

 

Parietal-Occipital (not variable)

  • The headache is 100% always on 1 side ONLY.
  • It NEVER alternates between 1 side and the other side.
  • It NEVER involves both sides of the head at the same time.

 

Parietal-Occipital (variable)

  • The headache is variable in location.
  • It may alternate between 1 side or the other side at different times.
  • It may commonly occur more often on 1 side or the other. However, it is not 100% always on the same side.
  • It may sometimes involve both sides of the head at the same time as well.

 

Whole Side of Head (not variable) (Forehead, Cheek, Temporo-Parietal-Occipital)

  • The headache is 100% always on 1 side only.
  • It never alternates between 1 side and the other side.
  • It never involves both sides of the head at the same time.

 

Whole Side of Head (variable) ((Forehead, Cheek, Temporo-Parietal-Occipital)

  • The headache is variable in location.
  • It may alternate between 1 side or the other side at different times.
  • It may commonly occur more often on 1 side or the other. However, it is not always on the same side. 
  • It may sometimes involve both sides of the head at the same time as well.

 

Whole Head (not variable) (Forehead, Cheek, Temporo-Parietal-Occipital On Both Sides At the Same Time) 

  • The headache is never on 1 side only. It always involves the whole head on both sides at the same time. 

 

2) Frequency of the headache or facial pain attacks

How frequent do the attacks of headache or facial pain occur? Once per day and several days per month, 8 different attacks per day, etc.? Is there a pattern to the attacks, such as a seasonal occurrence?

 

3) Duration of the headache or facial pain attacks

When you get an attack of headache or facial pain, how long does each individual attack last until it goes away completely (untreated or unsuccessfully treated)? 30 minutes, greater than 4 hours, 15 minutes, several days, etc.?

 

4) Description and characterization of the headache or facial pain

How would you describe the pain of the headache or facial pain if you had to put it into words? Throbbing, pounding, pulsating, pressure, electrical, shock, burning, sharp, stabbing, etc.?

 

5) Associated neurological symptoms

Is the headache associated with visual disturbances such as lost vision, flashing lights, shapes, zig-zags, colors, wavy lines, kaleidoscope, jagged edges, etc.? Is there numbness or tingling in an area of the body associated with a headache attack such as on one side of the face and body? Is there weakness on one side of the body with the headache? Are there problems speaking or getting words out with a headache attack?

 

6) Additional symptoms

Is your stomach upset or do you feel nauseated or sick to your stomach with a headache attack? Do you feel sensitive to bright light and/or loud sound when the headache is at its worst (where you would prefer to be in a dark quiet area if you had the chance)?

 

Does an eye turn red or tear up during a headache attack? Do you get a runny nose or a congested stuffy nose on one side during a headache attack? Does your eyelid droop on one side or does it get puffy around an eye on one side with a headache attack?

 

When you are done going through and thinking about all of these headache characteristics, patterns, and associated symptoms, take a run through this FREE headache and facial pain symptom checker. This will give you a list of possible headache types to consider, and treatments to discuss with your healthcare providers. From that list, you will be directed to the most common medication and effective treatments for you and your doctor to consider together. 

 

For example, for migraine there are a wide variety of effective treatments for aborting (taking something “as needed” to stop) a migraine attack including triptans, gepants (Ubrelvy, Nurtec), ditans (Reyvow), and neuromodulatory devices, If the frequency of attacks is high, there are many effective  preventive migraine treatments consisting of medications, CGRP monoclonal antibody (mAb) treatments (Aimovig, Ajovy, Emgality, Vyepti), gepants, Botox, natural supplements, herbals and vitamins, neuromodulatory devices, yoga and meditation, acupuncture, acupressure and pressure points.

 

Good luck! I hope this headache symptom checker tool leads you in a better direction of more educational and effective discussions with your doctor regarding possible headache types and more effective treatment considerations.

 

IF YOU HAVE HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN AND ARE LOOKING FOR ANSWERS ON ANYTHING RELATED TO IT, A HEADACHE SPECIALIST IS HERE TO HELP, FOR FREE!

FIRST, LET’S DECIDE WHERE TO START:

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR THE LATEST INFORMATION, HOT TOPICS, AND TREATMENT TIPS, VISIT OUR FREE BLOG OF HOT TOPICS AND HEADACHE TIPS HERE. THIS IS WHERE I WRITE AND CONDENSE A BROAD VARIETY OF COMMON AND COMPLEX  MIGRAINE AND HEADACHE RELATED TOPICS INTO THE IMPORTANT FACTS AND HIGHLIGHTS YOU NEED TO KNOW, ALONG WITH PROVIDING FIRST HAND CLINICAL EXPERIENCE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A HEADACHE SPECIALIST.

IF YOU DON’T HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR POSSIBLE TYPES OF HEADACHES OR FACIAL PAINS BASED ON YOUR SYMPTOMS, USE THE FREE HEADACHE AND FACIAL PAIN SYMPTOM CHECKER TOOL DEVELOPED BY A HEADACHE SPECIALIST NEUROLOGIST HERE!

IF YOU HAVE AN EXISTING HEADACHE, MIGRAINE, OR FACIAL PAIN DIAGNOSIS AND ARE LOOKING FOR FURTHER EDUCATION AND SELF-RESEARCH ON YOUR DIAGNOSIS, VISIT OUR FREE EDUCATION CENTER HERE.

FAQ

The threemost common types of headaches are called primary headaches. Primary headaches have no specific underlying cause and include tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. Each type has unique symptoms and causes. Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. They are caused by stress and tension in the muscles of the neck and head. Symptoms include tightness or pressure around the forehead or temples and a dull ache in the back of the head. Migraines are the most common headache that patients seek medical care for with a doctor. They include symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Cluster headaches aremore cyclical and are fairly consistent in their occurrence. They include severe pain, redness and tearing of an eye, and runny nose or congestion. Secondary headaches are headaches with an underlying cause that can be found on testing.

You’ll be easily able to isolate the type of headache that you have by looking at a headache chart. Headache charts show the location, helping you identify the major area of pain. A doctor is going to be able to help you further diagnose the headache and find a treatment, based on associated specific headache characteristics. They can help determine if it is a primary headache or a secondary headache. Primary headaches have no specific underlying cause, while secondary headaches have an underlying cause, such as a sinus headache from an infection. 

People who report a COVD-19 headache will often experience pressure or throbbing that dominates their entire head. The headache most often resembles tension type headache or migraine. The headache is often worse when bending over and it can be accompanied by a fever, body aches, and fatigue. Nasal congestion and a sore throat are also common symptoms. People who suffer from a COVID-19 headache will often report their symptoms going away as soon as the disease itself subsides, while long-haulers may experience a COVID-19 headache that persists for months, or that never resolves.

Acute headaches are types of headaches that are relatively infrequent while chronic headaches are frequent and consistent. Acute headaches can be severe in certain situations when they have a sudden onset with intense pain. Chronic headaches can be indicative of an underlying problem. Acute headaches tend to happen less than fifteen days per month for less than 3 months, while chronic headaches last for more than fifteen days per month for 3 or more  months.

Thunderclap headaches are a type of headache where the onset is very rapid, developing in under one minute. They are often characterized as a “first or worst headache” These types of headaches can be a symptom of bleeding in the brain or an aneurysm rupture, requiring immediate evaluation by a doctor. Certain types of strokes can also cause thunderclap headaches. These headaches need to be addressed with emergency care by a qualified physician.

You should see a doctor if your headaches are causing you discomfort or are impacting your daily life. Any type of headache is reason enough to see a doctor. If your headaches are worse than what they typically are, happen more frequently, have new features or neurological symptoms, and don’t respond to conservative treatments, this is a sign that you should likely visit a medical professional. There are certain types of doctors that specialize in headaches, called headache specialists

There are various natural headache remedies available. These can include:

  • Yoga and other relaxation techniques.
  • Dietary changes, to limit certain types of foods that can cause headaches.
  • Certain types of non-caffeinated teas will help alleviate headaches.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol and ingesting enough water will also help with headache prevention and relief.

When you first notice the onset of a headache, certain types of pain relievers are going to be your first line of relief. NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen will help you with general pain relief. If you are experiencing a migraine, then triptans like sumatriptan and zolmitriptan will help to abort the headache. Acetaminophen is also available for pain relief, but it doesn’t work as well for headaches that are caused by inflammation. The gepants, such as rimegepant and ubrogepant, are a new type of migraine pill which are also very effective.

The most common type of headache is tension headache, which is often associated with stress. Tension headaches are going to feel like a dull pain in your head, usually described as an achy pressure. It is often band-like pressure around the head. You will also likely feel some pressure on the sides of your head and your scalp. Sometimes, the muscles in your neck may hurt, too.

The cause of tension headaches is most commonly stress but can be aggravated by things like caffeine, poor posture, and lack of exercise. Stress headaches can often be relieved with over-the-counter medication.

Last Updated on November 17, 2023 by Dr. Eric Baron

Dr. Eric Baron

Dr. Eric P. Baron is a staff ABPN (American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology) Board Certified Neurologist and a UCNS (United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties) Diplomat Board Certified in Headache Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Neurological Institute, Center for Neurological Restoration – Headache and Chronic Pain Medicine, in Cleveland, Ohio. He completed his Neurology Residency in 2009 at Cleveland Clinic, where he also served as Chief Neurology Resident. He then completed a Headache Medicine Fellowship in 2010, also at Cleveland Clinic, and has remained on as staff. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurology at Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. He has been repeatedly recognized as a “Top Doctor” as voted for by his peers in Cleveland Magazine, and has been repeatedly named one of "America's Top Physicians". He is an author of the popular neurology board review book, Comprehensive Review in Clinical Neurology: A Multiple Choice Question Book for the Wards and Boards, 1st and 2nd editions, and has authored many publications across a broad range of migraine and headache related topics. To help patients and health care providers who do not have easy access to a headache specialist referral due to the shortage in the US and globally, he created and manages the Virtual Headache Specialist migraine, headache, and facial pain educational content, blog, and personalized headache and facial pain symptom checker tool. You can follow his neurology, headache, and migraine updates on Twitter @Neuralgroover.