Throbbing or Pulsing Headache: Should I Be Concerned?

If pulsating headaches are forcing you to retreat to a dark room and spend precious time lying around, waiting for the headache to pass, look for a headache specialist.  Successful treatment for pulsating headaches depends to a great extent on accurately diagnosing the causes and triggers behind them.  The expert doctors at Advanced Headache Center will recommend the best line of treatment to manage the symptoms and prevent recurring headaches that provide lasting relief for your pain.

Pulsating headaches can be overwhelming, and you might end up taking off from work to recover from the effects of the sharp pain in the head. The throbbing headache can be very frustrating as you do not know what is causing it and how to get rid of it.  There are many types and causes of headaches, and only when you understand the potential source of pain that you will get effective treatment to seek relief.

Pulsating Headache

Do You Suffer From a Pulsating Headache?

Pulsating headaches, also known as throbbing or pounding headaches, are painful and make it difficult to manage your daily life activities at work and home. They do not respond well to common over-the-counter medicines, which makes it necessary for you to get them meticulously diagnosed to alleviate the pain.

Headaches are common occurrences, and most of us experience a headache at least once in our lifetime. There are many types of headaches, and each type suggests a different cause. Headache pain also can be of different categories and vary in duration and severity.  Pulsating or throbbing headaches can be debilitating. It is different from other mild or nagging headaches that do not affect routine; it forces you to stop doing everything and lie down till the pain recedes.

Get your pulsating headaches diagnosed timely, as addressing the underlying cause of headaches is the only way to get rid of the pulsating pain.  Professional diagnosis by headache experts is essential for effective treatment.

Contact us now: (646) 763-2222 Areas we Serve

Identifying Pulsating Headache; How to Differentiate It From Other Headaches?

The pulsating or throbbing pain is excruciating enough to make you feel miserable for as long as it lasts. The pain is pounding and explosive. It may affect the entire head or a part of it, depending on what you are going through.  It can also extend to the neck, arms, eye, and facial muscles and add to the misery. Even if you try to lie down to get rid of the pain, small movements can intensify the headache, and a sudden movement or bright light can lead to other symptoms like nausea or dizziness.

Most headaches are minor pains that eventually go away or can be treated with a pain reliever. Such headaches are not severe enough to affect your routine life and health. As compared to other headaches, pulsating headaches make it impossible to do anything. They are restricted to particular areas of the head, either left or right and the pulsating rhythm feels as if someone is beating against the inside of the skills, worsening the pain if you are exposed to the triggers.

This type of pain can last for hours if you do not strive for the right treatment or understand the triggers causing the headache.

Causes of Throbbing Headaches

A throbbing headache can appear all of a sudden and unexpectedly. It can affect someone who has no history of regular headaches and causes pain that ebbs and flows in rhythm with the sufferer’s heartbeat.

There are many potential causes of throbbing headaches, including:

  • Hunger – If you have been hungry for a long time, it can lead to a terrible headache, along with other signs of starvation such as dizziness and stomach pain that increase the severity of the headache. This headache might continue even after you have eaten.
  • Caffeine withdrawal – Dilation or constriction of blood vessels in the head or neck cause throbbing pain due to caffeine ingestion or its effects after consumption. Pain caused by caffeine withdrawal usually occurs near the front of the head.
  • Allergic reactions – Certain foodstuffs, airborne allergens, and other environmental agents can cause pulsating headaches. It can also be a sinus headache if it is centered low in front of the head.
  • Venous malformation in the brain – Vascular damage in and around the cranium and brain can lead to a persistent throbbing headache. Special diagnostic imaging tests can pinpoint the position of veins and capillaries that are malformed or swollen.
  • Migraine – Migraine is a collection of symptoms that cause moderate to severe headaches, typically affecting one side of the head. The pain starts suddenly, and the sufferer might see an aura and experience sensitivity to light and sound.

Types and Causes of Pulsating Headaches

With so many types and varieties of pulsating headaches, it often becomes difficult to know what is causing your pain. Some people are more susceptible to certain types of headaches as the kind of work they do or the environment they live in can play a significant role in initiating the pain.

Go through the following types of headaches to determine which might be the one behind your discomfort.

  • Tension headaches – It is a dull headache that starts at the back of the head and spread to the rest of the skull. Its primary causes are tension in the scalp, neck, and shoulder. It is related to underlying stress and usually occurs in people who work on computers and stay in the same position for long hours.
  • Migraine – Migraines can be a major reason behind pulsating headaches. The exact causes behind migraines are not known, but they are known to be triggered by some irregular activity in the brain. The intense pain is accompanied by vomiting, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Cluster headaches – Pulsating pain can occur with cluster headaches. They are not only painful but also last for months which makes them very annoying. The pain starts suddenly and is felt on the side of the head. People who smoke and drink are at high risk of suffering from cluster headaches.
  • Sinus infections – Pulsating headaches can also be a symptom of sinus infection. It affects the front of the head, and you may feel intense burning pain along the cheeks or at the bridge of the nose. Other symptoms of a sinus infection include a runny nose or congestion.

In most cases, pulsating headaches result from the few abovementioned conditions and can be treated and managed with the right treatment plan. However, if the headaches persist and the medicines fail to provide relief, talk to your doctor. There might be secondary causes behind consistent pain.

Secondary causes of pulsating pain include:

  • Meningitis
  • Stroke
  • Brain tumor

They are a rare thing to happen, but ruling out the possibility of an underlying condition is necessary to alleviate the discomfort.

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Treating Pulsating Headaches. When to Seek Relief?

Treating pulsating headaches is a challenging task. These headaches have multiple causes, and there is no one way to treat them. You must find out what is causing the headache to target the specific problem and seek relief.  A pain expert doctor will narrow down the causes and provide the most appropriate solutions to provide the necessary respite.

After assessing your physical health, symptoms, and the type of pulsating pain you are suffering, the pain doctor may recommend a combination of medications that include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Anti-seizure drugs
  • Pain relievers
  • Antidepressants like amitriptyline or tricyclic antidepressants
  • Nerve blocks

You can avoid some of the triggers that cause throbbing headaches but not all. Also, migraines are hereditary, which makes it very tough to deal with them.  The top pain management doctors specialize in the most comprehensive and modern treatment options that reduce the frequency of headaches and intensity of pain.

At-Home Remedies for Pulsating Headaches

As you take steps towards controlling your pulsating headaches, the pain expert doctor will suggest some home remedies to further manage the throbbing headache pain. They include:

  • Lying down in a dark room
  • Using a warm or cool compress where the pain occurs
  • Staying hydrated
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medication
  • Sleeping

If you suffer from pulsating or chronic headaches, do not let them affect your quality of life. Working with a top pain management specialist is your first step to full recovery.  The expert doctors at the Advanced Headache Center use state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment to accurately identify the problem that is causing intense pain.   You can look forward to receiving a tailored treatment plan that willfully and effectively addresses the real issue and help you seek relief.

Updated on Jan 31, 2024 by Dr. Amr Hosny (Headache Specialist) of Advanced Headache Center

Amr Hosny, MD, MBA, AQH

Dr. Hosny is an Ivy League Trained, UCNS-accredited, board-certified headache specialist who offers the latest preventive and abortive treatments to provide safe and effective head pain relief. As an active member of prominent organizations and professional societies that advance headache science, education, and management, such as the National Headache Foundation, Dr. Hosney specializes in diagnosing and treating a wide range of head pain disorders, including tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches, to name a few.

Dr. Hosny's reputation for enhancing headache care quality through the use of the most effective and technologically advanced treatment options for persistent primary and secondary chronic headaches has been acknowledged by Castle Connolly and Healthgrades, where he has received over 200 positive reviews. Dr. Hosny is also recognized as a distinguished New York City physician and headache specialist by New York Magazine.

More about Dr. Hosny
Advanced Headache Center 41 5th Avenue,
New York, NY 10003
(646) 763-2222