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Headache Australia lists 36 different types of headache, either by symptom or cause. The International Headache Society has more than 400 headache types in their classification! Headache is one of the most common medical conditions in Australia and affects men and women alike, and people of all ages (although more headaches are reported by people aged 25-44). At any one time around 1 in 8 people will be taking some form of medication for headache in Australia.

The majority of headaches are temporary and are not caused by any serious underlying condition, but there are circumstances where it is advisable to seek medical assistance straight away if the headache is accompanied by any of the following symptoms…

  • Very sudden onset.
  • Very severe.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • A head injury.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Rash.
  • Difficulty with vision, walking or speaking (i.e. slurring words).
  • Numbness in either arms or legs or paralysis.
  • Fever (otherwise unexplained).
  • Nausea (otherwise unexplained).
  • Vomiting (otherwise unexplained).


Medically speaking, all headaches are caused by something stimulating pain receptors in the head or the neck.

Headaches are considered to be either 'primary' headaches or 'secondary' headaches. Primary headaches are those where the cause is not an 'illness' as such and secondary headaches are those caused by a specific injury or illness.

Tests / Diagnosis

It is important to get anything more than occasional headaches (where there is not an obvious cause), checked by a doctor to see if there is an underlying cause. The doctor will need to review symptoms such as frequency and duration of the headaches, location of the pain in the head and any other accompanying symptoms, for example neck pain or visual problems.

Because there are so many different forms of headache, a thorough medical evaluation, and if necessary, various tests, will be needed to come to the right diagnosis.

Some tests which may help with a diagnosis include imaging (x-rays, especially of the sinus, MRI and CT scans) and eye tests.