Chronic daily headaches are not the name of a specific headache type, but rather a categorical name given to a variety of headache types. When a headache condition goes untreated, is mistreated or does not respond to treatment, it can worsen and may eventually reach characteristics that qualify as chronic daily headaches. Individuals with this class of headache experience pain more days than they are pain free (15 times or more per month for several months at a time). The type of chronic daily headache an individual is suffering from depends on a number of factors, including how long their pain episodes last (greater or less than four hours) and where the pain presents in the body. The chronic daily headache category encompasses:
Chronic tension-type headaches: Which are the most common type of chronic daily headache and can last several hours or may become constant. They are described as moderate pain on both sides of the head with the sensation of pressure or tightness. Other symptoms include increased severity with physical activity, sensitivity to light or sound and nausea.
New daily persistent headaches: Which become constant within a few days of the initial attack. Symptoms include: mild or moderate pain on both sides of the head, pressure or tightening made worse with physical activity, sensitivity to light or sound and nausea.
Hermicrania continuas: Which are the most rare headache types, affecting only one side of the head. They are described as constant, relentless pain sometimes accompanied by mild dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system in the face, which can lead to a contracted pupil or drooping eyelid on the side of the head experiencing pain, red or watering eye and nasal congestion. They are similar to a cluster headache but less severe.
Cluster headaches: Also referred to as the suicide headache, cluster headaches are excruciating and most common in young male adults. They are characterized by severe stabling pain behind one eye and nasal congestion. The pain can become so intense, cluster headaches have been known to drive patients to commit suicide.
Learn more about cluster headaches here: What is a cluster headache?
Idiopathic intracranial hypotension: Also known as Pseudotumor cerebris (PTC), this headache type is the result of spinal fluid buildup in the brain. It can result in permanent blindness if untreated and is described as a dull pain, usually afflicting the back of the head. This headache type is typically worse at night or early morning and can cause blurred vision, temporary blindness, and double vision.
Chronic Daily Headache Cause
The exact cause of chronic daily headaches is unknown; however, several factors are believed to be associated with the onset of these headache types, including:
- Increased response to pain signals
- Dysfunction of body’s ability to suppress pain
- Issues concerning the inflammation of blood vessels in and around the brain (including stroke)
- Intracranial pressure imbalances
- Brain tumor
- Brain injury
Chronic daily headaches may also be the result of medication overuse, also referred to as a rebound headache. When abortive migraine medication is taken in excess (10-15 times per month for several months) the drugs can actually have an adverse affect, influencing more headache episodes instead of eliminating them. Over-the-counter and prescription-strength abortive medications are capable of causing this affect.
Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances have also been linked to the development of chronic daily headaches — a catch 22 because chronic daily headaches can also contribute to the onset of the very mental health conditions that trigger them.
Seeing a Physician
In order to be diagnosed with true (primary) chronic daily headaches, your pain must not be the result of any other condition. Schedule an appointment with your physician to find out if your chronic pain is one of several types of chronic daily headache types. Keeping a migraine diary that tracks the specific symptoms you experience, how often you experience them and what medication you are currently taking for attacks will greatly assist in the development of an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for your condition.