A headache or cephalalgia is pain anywhere in the region of the head or neck. It can be a symptom of a number of different conditions of the head and neck. The brain tissue itself is not sensitive to pain because it lacks pain receptors. Rather, the pain is caused by disturbance of the pain-sensitive structures around the brain. Nine areas of the head and neck have these pain-sensitive structures, which are the cranium (the periosteum of the skull), muscles, nerves, arteries and veins, subcutaneous tissues, eyes, ears, sinuses and mucous membranes.


There are a number of different classification systems for headaches. The most well-recognized is that of the International Headache Society. Headache is a non-specific symptom, which means that it has many possible causes. Treatment of a headache depends on the underlying etiology or cause, but commonly involves analgesics.

Depending on the type of headache, a number of different medications are effective in treating migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches. Some medications are prophylactic, meaning they are taken regularly to ward off a headache before it happens. Others are abortive medications, which are designed to control headache pain once it has begun.

Many chronic headache medications are available over-the-counter, however some require a doctor’s prescription. Also, not all of them are taken orally: some chronic headache treatments are available in topical form, such as pain creams or patches.