“Headache” is a general term that describes pain anywhere in the head or neck. Headache pain, which can have a number of causes, is unique to each person. This is why it is so important to seek personalized, specialized care for your headache treatment.  The specialists at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Headache Program are experts in the field and have extensive experience treating various types of headaches and managing the specific symptoms that impact you. 

Unlike other medical conditions, there is no single test to confirm the type of headache or its cause. Expert headache medicine diagnosticians work closely with patients to determine if the pain is either a:

  • Primary headache
  • Or a secondary headache (a headache caused by other, underlying medical conditions) 

Learn more about the different types of headaches and how they are treated: 


Migraines are a common disorder and rank in the top 8 of the world’s most disabling medical illnesses.

Migraine symptoms: Migraine attacks tend to last for several hours or more and can be precipitated by triggers that vary widely between individuals. Generally, migraines cause moderate to severe pain that can interfere with routine activities and are associated with other symptoms such as sensitivity to light, sound or odor or nausea and vomiting.

Migraine treatment: At the Weill Cornell Medicine Headache Program, we draw on both acute and preventative treatments to help stop an individual attack and reduce the overall frequency.

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Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are very severe, short-lasting attacks of pain, and typically involve pain on one side of the head associated with teary eyes, redness of the eye, drooping of the eyelid, or a stuffy or runny nostril on the same side as the pain.

Cluster headache symptoms: Cluster headache attacks last 15 to 180 minutes, can occur multiple times a day and a “cycle” of attacks can last weeks to months before the patient spontaneously reverts to a pain-free state. These headaches can be episodic (individuals find relief from attacks for at least a month in a year) or chronic (meaning there is little to no respite from the headaches over a year).

Cluster headache treatment: At the Weill Cornell Medicine Headache Program, we often treat cluster headaches with a course of steroids along with medication to help prevent future attacks. Nerve blocks are often employed to help break a cycle.

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Tension-type Headache

Tension-type headaches are the most common headache type, but are usually the least likely to bring someone to the doctor.

Tension headache symptoms: Often the pain manifests as a pressure and can feel like a band around the head. Unlike the severe intensity of a migraine headache, the pain of tension-type headache tends to be mild to moderate. Symptoms associated with migraines—like nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, sound and smells—do not usually accompany tension-type headaches. 

Tension-type headaches can be episodic, meaning they occur less than 15 days a month, but are termed chronic when they occur 15 days a month or more.

Tension headache treatment: To treat tension headaches, we use a holistic approach.  Medications may be recommended but stress reduction techniques and biofeedback, a method that allows one to modulate their heart rate, breathing and learn to induce a relaxed state, are central components of treatment.

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Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are less common than primary headaches and are related to underlying conditions, such as brain tumors, aneurysms, inflammation, and systemic illnesses.

In particular, secondary headaches can be attributed to:

  • Trauma to the head and/or neck
  • Abnormalities of blood vessels in the head or neck.
  • Non-vascular intracranial disorders, like brain tumors
  • Substance abuse or its withdrawal
  • Infection
  • Disorders of the head, neck, eyes, ears, nose, sinuses, teeth, mouth, other facial or cranial structure
  • Psychiatric disorders

Correctly identifying a secondary headache as a symptom of a potentially life-threatening conditions is critical. To identify the causes of a secondary headache, physicians may use detailed neurological exam (including examinations of the optic nerve), blood tests, CT scans and MRIs of the brain or neck and other tests.

The Weill Cornell Medicine Headache Program offers expert care in secondary headaches. In addition to its specialized focus, it is part of the institution’s neurology program, which is ranked as one of the top 3 programs of its kind nationwide, and in partnership with NewYork-Presbyterian, one of the top hospital systems in New York City and the U.S. for 16 years running.

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