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Headache is a very common symptom and can affect people of all ages, including children and adolescents. Severe or recurring headaches, especially those accompanied by other symptoms, may be a sign of a more serious disorder and should be treated by a doctor.

There are two types of headaches — primary, in which the headache is the disorder itself, and secondary, in which the headache is caused by another condition, such as a brain tumor; hemorrhaging or bleeding in the brain; meningitis, an infection causing inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord; or giant cell arteritis, a disorder involving inflammation and damage to blood vessels, particularly those in the neck.

Migraine is the most common type of primary headache for which people seek a doctor's care. Tension-type headache is typically less severe, and people generally do not seek medical attention for this disorder. Other primary headache disorders, such as cluster headache, are very severe and quite rare in children.

Many patients overuse headache medications, such as pain killers or migraine treatments, which can cause a condition known as medication overuse headache (MOH). If you develop this condition, you must be treated first for MOH as it prevents most other therapies from working properly.

UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your child's doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your child's provider.

Where to get care (1)

Headache Program

Headache Program

1825 Fourth St., Fifth Floor, 5A
San Francisco, CA 94158

Awards & recognition

  • One of the nation's best in neurology & neurosurgery

  • in NIH funding among U.S. neurology programs

  • Ranked among the nation's best in 10 specialties

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