Headache: Causes. Types And Treatment
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18, March 2024

Headache: Causes. Types And Treatment

A headache is a type of pain in the head or face that is frequently defined as a dull, acute, throbbing pressure. Concerning pain type, intensity, location, and frequency, headaches can vary considerably. Most people will suffer from headaches regularly throughout their lives. They are the most common type of discomfort and are usually given as a reason for missing work or school days and doctor visits. Although the major types of headaches are not harmful, some may imply a more serious illness.

Causes Of Headache

A combination of messages from your brain, blood vessels, and adjacent nerves causes the pain you experience during a headache. Specific nerves in your blood vessels and head muscles activate and transmit pain signals to your brain. But it's unclear how these signals are turned on in the first place.

Some of the common Causes Of Headaches are mentioned below:
Illness: This includes infections, colds, and fevers. Headaches are also common in diseases such as sinusitis (sinus inflammation), throat infections, and ear infections. A blow to the head or, in rare situations, a more serious illness can sometimes cause headaches.

Stress: Emotional stress and depression, as well as alcohol consumption, skipping meals, disturbed sleep habits, and excessive use of medications. Poor posture can additionally lead to neck or back stress. It can all lead to headaches.

Environment: Your surroundings may include secondhand tobacco smoke, strong odors from household chemicals or fragrances, allergies, and certain foods. Stress, pollution, noise, illumination, and weather changes are all possible causes of headaches.

Genetics: Headaches, especially migraine headaches, are often passed down through generations. The majority of adolescents and teenagers (90%) who suffer from migraines have other family members who do as well. When both parents suffer from migraines, their child has a 70% likelihood of getting migraines as well. If only one parent has a history of severe headaches, the risk decreases to 25–50%.

Doctors don’t know exactly what causes migraines.According to one concept, a problem with the electric charge via nerve cells triggers a series of events that result in migraines.

Types of Headache

The most common types of headaches are mentioned below:
1. Migraine

Migraine headaches involve intense, throbbing pains on one side of the head and often include heightened sensitivity to light, sound, and smell. Aura symptoms can last for 5–60 minutes and can include visual and sensory disturbances.Aura symptoms could also suggest stroke or meningitis. Migraine headaches are recurrent and can last from a few hours to several days. Its causes are not fully understood, but they often run in families and are more common in people with pre-existing conditions. Treatment depends on severity, frequency, and symptoms. Preventive treatment is recommended, and chronic migraines may be diagnosed if symptoms occur more than 15 days per month or for at least 8 days a month for 3 months.

2. Tension-type headache

Tension-type headaches are dull, constant pain on both sides of the head, causing tenderness of the face, head, neck, and shoulder, pressure behind the eyes, and sensitivity to light and sound. Common triggers include stress, anxiety, depression, dehydration, loud noise, lack of exercise, insufficient sleep, posture, skipping meals, and eyestrain. Treatments include over-the-counter painkillers, lifestyle changes, and treatments like acupuncture.

3. Cluster headache

Cluster headaches are severe, recurrent headaches. This type of headache affects males six times more than females. They cause intense pain behind or around one eye, watering eyes, swollen eyelids, and sensitivity to light and sound. These attacks can last 15 minutes to 3 hours and can persist for weeks or months. The causes are unclear, but smoking is more common. People should avoid drinking during the attack. Treatment options include oxygen therapy and some medications.

4. Exertional headache

Exertional headaches, triggered by physical activity, are short-lived and can last up to two days. They are common in those with a migraine family history. Treatment includes OTC pain relief, beta-blockers, and indomethacin. If cardiovascular issues are the cause of exertional headaches, it may be recommended to check cardiovascular as well as cerebrovascular health status. 

5. Hypnic headaches

Hypnic headaches, also known as "alarm clock" headaches, are a rare condition affecting older adults in their 50s. They cause mild-to-moderate throbbing pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. The cause is unknown, and there are no known triggers. The first-time hypnic headache sufferer should seek medical advice. Treatment options include caffeine and some other pain relief medications.

6. Medication-overuse headache

Medication-overuse headache (MOH) is a common secondary headache characterized by frequent or daily headaches similar to tension headaches or migraines. Initially responding to painkillers, MOH recurs later.A doctor diagnoses MOH when a person has a headache issue and has taken medication for pain for at least 15 days in a month. Treatment involves stopping the medication, which can cause worsened headaches, nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, sleep disturbance, and restlessness.The doctor helps in developing a plan and may prescribe alternative medications to help with symptoms of withdrawal.

7. Sinus headaches

Sinus headaches are a rare symptom of sinusitis, an inflammation of the sinuses caused by infection or allergies. They can cause a dull, throbbing ache around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead, worsening with movement or straining. If there are no nasal symptoms, a headache of this nature is most probably a migraine attack. Treatment options include rest, drinking fluids, OTC pain relief, nasal decongestants, salt water nasal sprays, antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, and antibiotics. If symptoms persist or become severe, a doctor may refer the individual to a specialist.

8. Caffeine-related headaches

High caffeine intake can cause headaches, especially migraine-like headaches. Withdrawal from over 200 mg of caffeine can lead to headaches lasting 2–9 days. Symptoms include tiredness, concentration difficulties, reduced mood, and nausea. Reducing caffeine intake may decrease headache risk.

9. Head-injury headaches

Head injuries can cause headaches immediately or after some time. If you don't get relief from over-the-counter medications, immediately seek medical attention. Call an ambulance for a serious head injury or if symptoms like unconsciousness, seizures, memory loss, or confusion are present post-injury. In the case of post-traumatic headaches, which can persist for up to 12 months. Even a small blow can result in a traumatic brain injury.

10. Menstrual headaches

Hormone-related headaches, often triggered by hormonal changes, can occur around menstruation, oral birth control, menopause, or pregnancy. Symptoms are similar to migraines without auras but can last longer. Treatment involves hormonal therapy, alternative oral birth control plans, and hormone replacement therapy for menopause patients.

11. Hangover headaches

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to a throbbing headache that may persist beyond that day, worsen with movement, and cause nausea and sensitivity to light.

Hangovers do not have a specific cure but can be relieved by drinking plenty of water, eating sugary foods, and using over-the-counter painkillers. Symptoms usually subside within 72 hours.

Treatment Of Headache

Treatment for headaches depends on the type of headache. Primary headaches can be treated by identifying triggers through a headache log. Healthcare providers can tailor treatment to individual needs, such as reducing stress levels to avoid stress-induced headaches. Treatment options include stress management, biofeedback, medications, and treating the underlying medical condition. Stress management involves relaxation techniques, and biofeedback helps identify tension building in the body. Over-the-counter pain relievers are effective for occasional tension headaches, but overuse can lead to long-term headaches. Prescription medications can stop migraine attacks. Secondary headaches may require surgery to correct the underlying medical condition, such as surgery for secondary cough headaches.

Self-Care For Headache

Home remedies for occasional headaches include over-the-counter pain relievers, heat or cold packs, stretching exercises, massages, and resting in a quiet room. Preventing headaches involves identifying triggers, such as strong scents, troublesome foods, lack of sleep, and poor posture. However, if triggers aren't identified, a personalized, multidisciplinary approach with a headache specialist may be necessary.


Headaches can disrupt daily life and affect mood. Consult a healthcare provider if headaches interfere with daily functioning. Keep a note of your headache symptoms for better communication while talking to your doctor. Accurate information about headaches is crucial for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Dr Aaksha Shukla By -Dr Aaksha Shukla | March 18, 2024 | 9 Min Read

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