By definition, chronic daily headaches occur 15 days or more a month, for at least three months. True (primary) chronic daily headaches aren't caused by another condition.

There are short-lasting and long-lasting chronic daily headaches. Long-lasting last more than four hours. They include:

  • Chronic migraine
  • Chronic tension-type headache
  • New daily persistent headache
  • Hemicrania continua

Chronic migraine

This type typically occurs in people with a history of episodic migraines. On eight or more days a month for at least three months, migraines tend to have the following features:

  • Affect one side or both sides of your head
  • Have a pulsating, throbbing sensation
  • Cause moderate to severe pain
  • Are aggravated by routine physical activity

And they cause at least one of the following:

  • Nausea, vomiting or both
  • Sensitivity to light and sound

Chronic tension-type headache

These headaches tend to have the following features:

  • Affects both sides of your head
  • Cause mild to moderate pain
  • Cause pain that feels pressing or tightening, but not pulsating
  • Aren't aggravated by routine physical activity

Some people may have skull tenderness.

New daily persistent headache

These headaches come on suddenly, usually in people without a headache history. They become constant within three days of your first headache. They have at least two of the following characteristics:

  • Usually affects both sides of your head
  • Cause pain that feels like pressing or tightening, but not pulsating
  • Cause mild to moderate pain
  • Aren't aggravated by routine physical activity

Hemicrania continua

These headaches:

  • Affect only one side of your head
  • Are daily and continuous with no pain-free periods
  • Cause moderate pain with spikes of severe pain
  • Respond to the prescription pain reliever indomethacin (Indocin)
  • May sometimes become severe with development of migraine-like symptoms

In addition, hemicrania continua headaches are associated with at least one of the following:

  • Tearing or redness of the eye on the affected side
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Drooping eyelid or pupil narrowing
  • Sensation of restlessness

When to see a doctor

Occasional headaches are common, and usually require no medical attention. However, consult your doctor if:

  • You usually have two or more headaches a week
  • You take a pain reliever for your headaches most days
  • You need more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter pain remedies to relieve your headaches
  • Your headache pattern changes or your headaches worsen
  • Your headaches are disabling

Seek prompt medical care if your headache:

  • Is sudden and severe
  • Accompanies a fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking
  • Follows a head injury
  • Gets worse despite rest and pain medication
Mar. 10, 2015

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