Headache: Primary vs Secondary

Before we delve into the various types of primary headaches, I think it is important to take a few steps back and look at a bird’s eye-view of headache.  Headache is a term used to describe any discomfort above the shoulders, so it typically includes the head and face.  It is a symptom, not a diagnosis. 

When someone comes in with “headache” as a concern, they are using the broader umbrella term under which primary and secondary headaches fall. These subcategories can then be further divided.   

A primary headache is a headache an individual is genetically predisposed to get, likely genetics plus environment.  Primary headaches are neurological disorders and there is no cure.  Much like a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure or diabetes, there are lifestyle changes that can modify the disease but never completely get rid of it.  Some primary headache syndromes, like migraine, can improve with age. 

A secondary headache is something with an underlying cause, and if that problem is addressed the headache should resolve.  It is not uncommon, however, for primary and secondary headaches to occur in the same person.

Image by A Fox on Unsplash

Image by A Fox on Unsplash