The underlying causes of primary and secondary headaches are unknown. Although there is no conclusive evidence, there are several common triggers associated with both types of headaches, including:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Bright lights
  • Certain foods
  • Certain odors or perfumes
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Excessive visual input
  • Exercise
  • Fatigue
  • Headache symptoms
  • Hormonal changes
  • Hunger
  • Loud noises
  • Neck and spine pain
  • Neurologic disorders
  • Stress
  • Vasoconstriction

The common symptoms associated with both primary and secondary headaches include:

  • Chills
  • Facial pain (trigeminal neuralgia)
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Migraine symptoms
  • Numbness, tingling, weakness
  • Pain localized to one side of head (hemicranial)
  • Pulsating pain
  • Sweating

Migraine headaches can often begin in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. Migraine attacks may progress through four stages: prodrome, aura, attack and postdrome. Not everyone experiences all of these stages.

Prodrome: One or two days before a migraine, you may notice changes that can signal an oncoming migraine, including:

  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Food cravings
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Neck stiffness
  • Repetitive yawning

Aura: Approximately one-third of patients who suffer migraines perceive an aura. Auras are usually visual but can also be sensory, motor or verbal disturbances. Each of these symptoms typically begins gradually, builds up over several minutes, and commonly lasts for 10 to 30 minutes. Examples of aura include:

  • Aphasia or limb weakness (hemiplegic migraine)
  • Pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg
  • Speech or language problems
  • Vision loss
  • Visual phenomena, bright spots, light flashes

Attack: When untreated, a migraine typically lasts from four to 72 hours, but the frequency with which headaches occur varies from person to person. You may have migraines several times a month or much less frequently. During a migraine, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Blurred vision
  • Diarrhea
  • Lightheadedness, sometimes followed by fainting
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain on one side of your head
  • Pulsating, throbbing pain
  • Sensitivity to light, sounds and sometimes smells

Postdrome: The final phase occurs after a migraine attack when you may feel drained and washed out, though some people report feeling mildly euphoric.