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What You Should Know About Headaches?

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What You Should Know About Headaches?

4 min read


Headache is a common reason for patients seeking medical attention. Read this article to learn in detail about the causes and management of headaches.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. K. Shobana

Published At April 27, 2017
Reviewed AtOctober 31, 2022


Headache is a common problem that many people experience multiple times in their lives. There are various types of headaches; amongst them, tension headache is the most common, along with migraine. Approximately 40 % of people across the world experience tension-type headaches, and 10 % have migraines. Most headaches are not harmful, but some can be a sign of a severe underlying condition. There are many causes of headaches, and if correctly diagnosed and treated, one may become headache free.

What Is a Headache?

A headache is a pain in the head and face that is usually characterized by a constant sharp or dull throbbing pressure. Anybody can have a headache, including children and adults. Headaches often run in families. Headaches can differ based on the type of pain, location, severity, and frequency. Headache often results from signals interacting among the brain, blood vessels, and surrounding nerves. During an episode of headache, multiple mechanisms activate nerves affecting the muscles and blood vessels sending pain signals to the brain.

Types of headaches include:

  1. Primary Headache - Overactivity of pain-sensitive parts of the head may cause primary headaches. This type of headache is not a sign of or cause of an underlying condition. This type of headache is usually not dangerous but can be very painful and disrupt daily activities. Some individuals might have genes that make them more susceptible to developing a headache. Such headaches include tension-type headaches, migraine, cluster headaches, and new daily persistent headaches.

  2. Secondary Headache - This type of headaches are caused by an underlying medical condition. Such headaches include dehydration headaches, sinus headaches, medication overuse headaches, spinal headaches, and thunderclap headaches.

What Are the Causes of Headaches?

Common Causes Of Headaches:

  • Migraine.

  • Tension-type headache.

  • Idiopathic stabbing.

  • Cluster headache.

  • Exertional headache.

  • Systemic infection.

  • Sinusitis.

  • Head injury.

  • Vascular disorders.

  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage.

  • Brain tumor.

The patient who presents with a new, severe headache has causes that may be different from patients with recurrent headaches over many years. People frequently ask to get imaging of the brain done to rule out the cause of headaches. They have a special attraction for MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) scans. But not every headache requires investigation; however, some may require investigations. Let us understand when a headache requires immediate attention.

What Are the Symptoms of Headaches?

Headache symptoms that suggest a serious underlying disorder:

  • Worst headache ever.

  • First severe headache.

  • Headache worsening over days or weeks.

  • Associated with neurological deficit.

  • Fever or unexplained systemic signs.

  • Vomiting preceding headache.

  • Pain induced by bending, lifting, and coughing.

  • Pain that disturbs sleep or presents immediately upon awakening.

  • Known systemic illness.

  • Onset after age 55.

  • Pain associated with local tenderness, e.g., region of the temporal artery.

If one has any of these symptoms, he needs to have a doctor's consultation as soon as possible.

Now, let’s read about the two most common types of headaches, i.e., migraine and tension-type headaches.

What Is a Migraine?

Migraine, a very common cause of headache, more commonly affects women than men. It is usually an episodic headache that is usually unilateral (on one side of the head).

Symptoms of Migraine:

The associated certain features include:

  • Nausea (feeling of vomiting).

  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light).

  • Phonophobia (sensitivity to sound).

  • Light-headedness.

  • Scalp tenderness.

  • Vomiting, nausea (feeling of vomiting).

  • Visual disturbances.

  • Paresthesias (tingling sensations).

  • Vertigo.

  • Alteration of consciousness.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Seizure.

  • Confusion.

People having migraines, usually during acute attacks, prefer to be alone and stay away from any sound or light. They want to sleep in a dark room.

Triggering Factors of Migraine:

Acute attacks are usually triggered by some stimulants called “triggers,” which include:

  • Bright lights.

  • Sounds.

  • Hunger.

  • Stress.

  • Exertion.

  • Hormonal fluctuations during menses.

  • Lack of or excess sleep.

  • Alcohol, wine, cheese, or other chemical stimulation.

Patients should try to notice their triggers and should make lifestyle adjustments to avoid them.

How to Deal with Migraines?

  • Patients having migraines should seek medical consultation. There are drugs that are given to terminate acute attacks of migraine, as well as to prevent them.

  • They should have a fixed sleeping routine, like sleeping from 10 PM to 6 AM. They should not sleep for more than 30 minutes during the daytime, as excessive sleeping during the daytime would cause problems in falling asleep during nighttime, leading to disturbance of the sleep cycle and precipitation of migraine.

  • They should avoid wine, cheese, and lemon.

What Is a Tension-Type Headache?

It is a chronic head pain syndrome characterized by a tight, band-like discomfort. It is bilateral (occurs on both sides of the head). The pain typically builds slowly, fluctuates in severity, and may persist more or less continuously for many days. The headache may be episodic or chronic (present for more than 15 days per month). It may be associated with sleep disturbances.

Categories of Tension-Type Headache:

  • Episodic Tension-Type Headache - This type of headache lasts for half an hour to a week. Frequent episodes can occur less than 15 days a month for about three months. Frequent episodic headaches can become chronic.

  • Chronic Tension-Type Headache - This type of headache lasts for hours and can be continuous. If the headache exists for 15 or more days in a month, it is called chronic.

Symptoms of a Tension-Type Headache:

The signs and symptoms of a tension-type headache include:

  • Dull aching head pain.

  • Tenderness in the scalp, shoulder, and neck.

  • A sensation of pressure or tightness in the forehead or on the back and sides of the head.

How to Deal with Tension-Type Headaches?

  • The pain can generally be managed with simple analgesics but should be taken under medical supervision as they have a long list of adverse effects. There are other drugs too, but they can be given only under medical supervision.

  • Behavioral therapies, including relaxation, are also effective.

  • Patients with this type of headache are advised to throw away their “headaches” to prevent the “headache,” which means they should try to sort out the tension or problem causing the headache.


Migraines can be difficult to differentiate from tension-type headaches. People experiencing frequent episodic tension-type headaches can also experience migraine. The key to preventing headaches is finding out what triggers them. Triggers are specific to each person, so determining the triggers can help minimize them. It is suggested to have a doctor’s consultation if headaches disrupt life and need to have medicines to manage them.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Four Different Forms of Headaches?

The four types of headaches are-  - Migraine.  - Tension headaches.  - Cluster headaches.  - New daily persistent headaches (NDPH).


What Causes Headaches Primarily?

Primarily headaches may be caused by chemical activity in the brain, nerves, blood vessels, or muscles of the head and neck, or by some combination of these sources. Furthermore, some persons may be predisposed to severe headaches due to genetic factors.


When Is a Headache Something to Be Worried About?

A person must see their doctor under the following circumstances-
- Their headache returns repeatedly. 
- The headache worsens even after taking medicines. 
- They experience severe throbbing headaches on one side or in the front of their head; these could be migraines or, less frequently, cluster headaches.


Which Kinds of Headaches Are Severe?

Cluster headaches are the most intense type of primary headache. Cluster headaches typically develop in a cluster in the spring or the fall. During a cluster period, which may span two weeks to three months, headaches happen one to eight times every day.


Is Experiencing a Headache Everyday Normal?

It is not normal to experience headaches every day. Most people occasionally have headaches. But if a person experiences headaches more often than not, they may have chronic daily headaches, which can take many different forms and are typically rather incapacitating.


Do Headaches Result From Anxiety?

Common symptoms of certain anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), include headaches. In that scenario, the patient worries all the time and struggles to manage anxiety. One of the symptoms doctors look for while evaluating patients for GAD is headaches.


Why Do People Have Headaches When They Wake Up?

Numerous sleep or medical conditions, as well as individual behaviors, might cause a headache when someone wakes up. Common causes include sleep apnea, migraines, and insufficient sleep. However, waking up with a headache is also possible if people grind their teeth, drink alcohol, or take certain drugs.


When Does a Headache Become Too Much?

Having a headache once or twice a week is normal, but when it happens more than twice a week, it is virtually considered a chronic headache. Only 5 % of people suffer headaches more than twice a week.


How Does a Headache Caused by High Blood Pressure Feel?

When you have a hypertensive crisis, the blood pressure rapidly rises to dangerously high levels, putting pressure on the skull. The ensuing headache is distinct from any other migraine or type of head discomfort. Aspirin and other conventional headache medications are unsuccessful at reducing pain caused by high blood pressure.


How Can One Tell if a Headache Is Hormonal?

Menstrual migraines, also known as hormone headaches, occur up to two days before or three days after a woman's menstruation and may get worse with motion, light, scent, or sound. The signs may persist for a few hours but probably persist for days.


How Does a Headache Caused by Sinuses Feel?

Sinus headaches are headaches that may resemble sinus infections (sinusitis). The cheekbones, forehead, and eyes may all feel compressed. However, a migraine may be the reason for this discomfort.


Does Water Relieve Headaches?

Dehydration may cause a migraine to develop. Every person who experiences migraines should drink a lot of water. By getting enough water, they might be able to prevent experiencing a migraine attack.


How Does a Headache Caused by Caffeine Feel?

Caffeine headaches can occur if someone has consumed too little or too much caffeine. Caffeine headaches range in intensity from mild to severe. Other caffeine withdrawal symptoms, such as exhaustion, poor energy, and irritability, are frequently present in addition to these.


Which Headache Medication Works the Best?

The initial line of treatment for headaches is typically the use of straightforward painkillers that are accessible over the counter. Examples include- Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen sodium.
Dr. Anshul Varshney
Dr. Anshul Varshney

Internal Medicine


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