The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Headaches

Nearly everyone has had a headache at some point, and approximately 1 out of every 7 adults throughout the world experience migraines. Preventing future headaches depends on what’s causing them to develop in the first place. For example, if you don’t drink enough water, you could end up with a headache. Staying adequately hydrated prevents dehydration-related headaches.

You can start to pinpoint the cause of your headaches by first determining if you have a primary or a secondary headache.

In this article, Barry Hughes, DC and our team here at Premier Chiropractic in Pearland, Texas, explain the difference between primary and secondary headaches and how chiropractic care can help you find relief.

What are Primary Headaches?

Primary headaches happen when the headache is the main issue, rather than an underlying condition. Primary headaches aren’t caused by a separate underlying condition. Primary headaches include:

  • Tension headaches
  • Migraines
  • Migraines with aura
  • Cluster headaches

Primary headaches are not symptoms of other diseases or conditions, but some migraines can be triggered by environmental factors, such as skipping meals, stress, not getting enough sleep, and dietary factors.

What are Secondary Headaches?

Unlike primary headaches, secondary headaches occur as a result of an underlying condition. Secondary headaches can be symptoms of the following:

  • Sinus infections
  • Medication overuse
  • Meningitis
  • Dehydration
  • Viral infections, including influenza and COVID-19
  • Spinal headaches, which are a side effect from epidurals used during childbirth
  • Cervicogenic headaches, which are related to degenerative disc disorders in the neck
  • Head or neck injuries
  • Hypertensive crisis
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Brain tumors
  • Brain aneurysm
  • Stroke

Note: if you’re having “the worst headache of your life” and experience other symptoms of a stroke or hypertensive crisis, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Secondary headaches won’t go away until the underlying issue is resolved. For example, if you have an acute sinus infection, your headache should resolve once you take antibiotics to clear the infection.

How are Headaches Treated?

At-home headache treatments include:

  • Putting a cold compress on your head
  • Using chilled eye masks
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medication
  • Drinking water
  • Using a magnesium spray or soak in an Epsom salt bath
  • Applying diluted peppermint oil to your forehead
  • Trying a cup of coffee or caffeinated tea

While the above tips can help ease the pain of a current headache, how can you prevent future headaches from developing? Treatment and prevention of headaches vary greatly depending on what’s causing your headaches.

For most types of headaches, the following lifestyle modifications go a long way in reducing the frequency of headaches:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Drinking plenty of water each day
  • Eating a balanced diet and avoiding any dietary triggers
  • Avoiding processed foods, especially food with MSG
  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule

Chiropractic care and nutritional counseling can also help you prevent headaches. Chiropractic care, including manual therapy, soft tissue therapy, and other modalities, can improve headaches by improving spinal function and alleviating stress on your nervous system.

Need help managing headaches? Schedule an appointment at our Pearland, Texas, office today by calling 281-223-1172 or using our online portal.