Older Adults_Bars-Geriatric Pain

FAST FACTS: Headache



A headache is pain in the head or neck. There are over 200 types of headaches which can be a symptom of many different conditions with causes ranging from harmless to life-threatening. Description of the headache along with other findings by a healthcare professional will determine the most appropriate treatment.

Types of Headaches

  • Primary Headaches occur on their own with no detectable underlying cause
    • Migraine - pulsating in character, affecting one side of head, associated with nausea, can be disabling in severity, lasting 3 hours to 3 days
    • Trigeminal Neuralgia - a shooting pain in face
    • Tension - band-like or squeezing; may be brought on by stress
    • Cluster - severe pains that occur together in bouts
  • Secondary Headaches are caused by an underlying condition or disease
    • Brian tumor
    • Stroke
    • Medication overuse
    • Head injury

Red Flag Symptoms:  These should be reported to a healthcare provider immediately

  • Sudden onset, new or different headache in someone over 50
  • Mental confusion and/or vision problems
  • Headache made worse by exertion, coughing, or straining
  • Headaches in people with HIV, cancer, or at risk for blood clot
  • Headache with fever, vomiting, weakness, or neck stiffness

Assessment is Key

  • Treatment of a headache depends on the underlying cause
  • Not all headaches require medical attention, and most respond with simple over the counter pain medications such as acetaminophen, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen

What Else You Should Do

  • Write down and share information about your pain with your healthcare provider
  • Use a Pain Diary to note important information useful to the healthcare provider
  • Try a non-drug treatment and document the impact on their pain in their Pain Diary


  1. WebMD. September 14, 2020.  Headache Basics. Accessed 3.13.2022. https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraines-headaches-basics
  2. Cleveland Clinic. June 3, 2020. Headaches. Accessed 3.13.2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9639-headaches Revised 3/2020
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