I've been trying to prevent my Russian from rusting by going through Duolingo in both directions (Russian for English speakers and English for Russian speakers). I found "I have a headache" being consistently translated as "у меня болит голова" in the Russian lessons, and as "у меня головная боль" in the English lessons.

I gather that they have the same meaning, but are they exact synonyms or this there a nuance between them? Maybe one of them is more childish or more casual or something else?

Thanks in advance.

3 Answers 3


The other answers correctly stated that "болит голова" is more common and "головная боль" is more formal. I'd like to add that in addition to the literal meaning, "головная боль"/"headache" can be used figuratively, as in an annoying, persistent problem. In this figurative use, "головная боль" is correct.

  • 3
    Actually both expressions can be used figuratively, again with the verbal phrase being more colloquial (*а об этом пусть у него голова болит*= but that's his problem).
    – J-mster
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 10:58

«У меня головная боль» is more formal. You might say it during a doctor's appointment.

The adjective «головной» is very rare. Off the top of my head, I can only recall two fixed phrases that contain it: «головная боль» (headache) and «головной офис» (main office, headquarters).

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    Also головной убор*(headdress), *головной мозг*(brain), *головное ведомство (parent institution)
    – J-mster
    Commented Jan 12, 2022 at 10:47

У меня болит голова and у меня головная боль are synonymous, but in everyday life the most common way to say this is у меня болит голова.

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