Headaches are one of the most common health complaints, with pain presenting in different ways.


Headaches are one of the most common health complaints, with pain presenting in different ways. A distinction is made between two kinds of headache, i.e. primary headaches and secondary headaches. A primary headache isn't caused by another disease, while a secondary headache can be caused by an accident or another disease.


Primary headache

Tension headache
  • Frequency: occasionally to daily
  • Location: occurs on both sides of the head and affects specific regions, such as the forehead, temples or skull
  • Intensity: slight to medium
  • Duration: 4 - 72 hours
  • Frequency: occasionally to several times a month
  • Location: one-sided 60% of the time
  • Character: pulsing, nagging, pounding
  • Intensity: medium to severe
  • Accompanying symptoms: nausea/vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise
Cluster headache
  • Duration: 30 - 180 minutes
  • Frequency: several times a day, then disappears for several months
  • Location: strictly one-sided, behind the eye
  • Character: stabbing
  • Intensity: severe pain that worsens rapidly
  • Accompanying symptoms: eye waters, turns red and swells up, nose is blocked or running, sweat on forehead

Secondary headache

Varies according to the disease or type of accident

  • Character: pulsing, dull, stabbing, pounding, nagging or throbbing
  • Location
    • Affects one or both sides of the head
    • Forehead or neck, radiating
    • Affects all of one side of the face
  • Worsened by movement, cold or food
  • Accompanying symptoms

Causes and treatment

Causes (excerpt)

Primary headache
  • Stress
  • Hormone fluctuations
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of fresh air, overheated rooms
  • Poor posture, muscle tension
  • Smoking, alcohol
  • Painkillers
  • Changes in the weather
Secondary headache

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests

Different tests, depending on the symptoms and suspicions

  • Physical examination
  • Blood test
  • Blood pressure
  • Measurement of brain waves (EEG)
  • Imaging procedures
    • Ultrasound of the organs of the throat and blood vessels
    • Examination of cerebral blood vessels using a contrast agent (angiography)
    • X-ray of head and spine
    • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
    • CT scan (computed tomography)
Possible therapies:
  • Painkillers
  • Reduction of light and noise
  • Other treatment by a specialist, depending on the cause of the underlying disease

What can I do myself?

  • Make enough time for sleeping and relaxation
  • Sufficient fluid intake (> 2 litres/day)
  • Balanced wholefood diet
  • No alcohol or cigarettes
  • Keep a pain diary (type of pain, duration, intensity)
  • Sufficient exercise and sport
  • Relaxation and reduction of stress
  • Avoid regular use of painkillers
    • Risk of medication-induced headache
    • Long-term side effects
  • Household remedies
    • Lightly massage the temples (lavender or peppermint oil)
    • Put fresh lemon slices on the painful area
    • Lavender tea
    • Sufficient fresh air when sleeping

When to see a doctor?

  • Unexplained sleepiness
  • Person doesn't react when spoken to
  • Sudden onset of extremely severe headache
  • Speech disturbances and problem finding words (anomia)
  • Dizziness, hearing problems and visual disturbances
  • Disorientation, gaps in memory
  • Signs of paralysis
  • Seizure
  • Stiff neck
  • High fever and chills
  • Vomiting
  • Condition worsens after an accident involving a blow to the head
  • Headaches affecting children (must be taken seriously)

Further information

In conjunction with the TopPharm pharmacies, CSS offers a pain assessment and advice programme. This should help to improve your quality of life.


headaches, headache, sore head, cephalgia, migraine, tension headache, cluster headache

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Exclusion of liability

CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.