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A headache can be defined as pain occurring in any area of the head. The pain may develop only on one side of the head or it can occur on both sides. A headache may be located in one particular area, or it may move across the head from one area to another. Some headaches feel as though the head is being squeezed in a vice. Some people describe the pain from a headache as throbbing, others describe a dull ache, and others experience very sharp pains. Headaches may come on suddenly or appear gradually. Some only last a few minutes and others may last for several days.

What causes a headache to occur?

The factors related to what causes a headache to occur could be directly related to lifestyle choices, possibly high levels of stress, underlying illnesses and more. The cause of a headache would essentially have to be diagnosed by a professional and specialist in order to make sure of the actual source and treatment required.


There are two ways to define a headache, it is described by the International Headache Society (IHS) as “Primary” when there is no relation or connection with a headache to another health ailment and “Secondary” when a headache is caused by other underlying illnesses.

The following may directly relate to what causes a headache

What causes a headache in the primary sense may be due to overactive functions within the head, which later results in the pain experienced. The structures within the head such as blood vessels, nerves and muscles may be pain sensitive.




Migraines can disrupt a regular day with its symptoms that may include, blurred vision, lightheadedness, and nausea. They can also feel like pulsating and throbbing on one section of the head. Sometimes the affected person can experience seeing “auras” which can last anywhere from 5 to 20, and even 60 minutes. Auras sometimes occur before a migraine. Auras can also distort vision causing the individual to see flashes of lights or other patterns.

Migraines can last from a few hours to 3 days and are said to be caused by brain chemical changes and imbalances, as well as genetics and environmental influences. These influences may also include diet, stress, anxiety or medication to name a few.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are a commonly experienced headache and can cause symptoms of feeling as if a tight band is around the head, a dull but continuous ache at the sides of the head as well as pain emanating from the neck to the head. It can also cause tenderness on the scalp and tingling.

The two types include:

  • Episodic – can be experienced for 30 minutes and can last a weak
  • Chronic – can occur for several days for consecutive days


What causes a headache such as tension headaches is not known, but factors like stress are one of the main triggers to cause this pain.

More about Tension Headaches:  Tension Headache Exercises


Cluster headaches

What causes a headache such as a cluster type cannot be pinpointed, but during this time the cluster headache will cause pain around one of the eyes and is related to the nerve in the face. These headaches are very severe and will occur every year at the same time or same season. They “strike hard and fast” and can last for 5 to 15 minutes every day for a few weeks, or even months.

Roundabout headaches

Roundabout headaches can occur when individuals overuse painkillers to alleviate a headache. This will only result in a re-occurrence and an even stronger headache once the pain medication wears off. They can cause feelings of relentlessness, inability to sleep, neck pain, and congestion.


The factors associated with what causes a headache with secondary headaches relates to other aspects such as health concerns.

Secondary headaches can be caused because of:

  • – Blood clots
  • – Tumor in the brain
  • – Bleeding inside or around the brain
  • – Dehydration
  • – Concussion
  • – Panic attacks
  • – Stroke
  • – Severe Bruxism (severe teeth grinding)
  • – Glaucoma
  • – Influenza
  • – Hangover due to excessive drinking


Thunderclap Headaches

Thunderclap headaches occur as a secondary headache which is a result of a health concern. They can last for 60 seconds and sometimes for a few days. They may cause nausea, vomiting, weakness, vision changes and confusion.

What causes a headache such as a thunderclap headache can be a result of arterial bleeding. These can be due to the slightest tear in the artery linked to your head or neck, an aneurysm, blocked veins within your head, spinal fluid leakage, brain infection or sudden changes in blood pressure.

Factors such as taking narcotics, physical and hard labor as well as touching hot or warm water in an instant when you bath or shower can trigger thunderclap headaches.

You can seek professional assistance from an ophthalmologist (eye specialist), neurologist (specializes in the nervous system), an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist), or Psychiatrist (specializes in mental treatment and disorders).

What causes a headache can also be classified by when they occur and their duration:

  • Acute Headaches: When someone experiences a particular type of a headache for the first time, it is considered to be acute. Circumstances that might be the cause of an acute headache include a concussion, a stroke, meningitis, seizures, or encephalitis.


  • Subacute Headaches: These types of headaches can persist for long periods of time without relief. Some possible causes for these include hypertension, neuralgias, and temporal arteritis.


  • Chronic Headaches: These headaches can persist for years. Tension-type headaches and migraine are common examples.


More reasons for what causes a headache

What causes a headache to occur more frequently isn’t well understood. There has been no reason identified to explain the reason for true chronic daily headaches. Some possible reasons for these headaches occur may include:

  • 1) You respond more intensely to pain signals
  • 2) The portion of your brain that controls how you interpret pain signals isn’t working correctly



Of all the disorders of the nervous system, headaches are one of the most frequent problems that occur. Researchers estimate that nearly half of the world’s adult population have had symptoms of a headache disorder in the past year. From 50 to 75% of people between the ages of 18 to 65, globally, have had a headache in the past 12 months, and over 10% of those have reported a migraine. From 1.4 to 4% of adults worldwide report having a headache for at least 15 days out of every month.

What causes a headache and their symptoms may differ one patient to the other.

If you suspect that you need medical assistance or need help diagnosing the problem to source the correct medical care and treatment, then you may want to visit your general practitioner. However, sometimes it takes the assistance of a specialist such as a neurologist, ophthalmologist, otolaryngologist, allergist or pain management specialist to help you get to the core of the matter.

Some diagnosing methods used include scans to get a better look at what’s going on from within such as a CAT (Computerized Axial Tomography) scan, MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagery), blood tests as well as X-rays.

There are plenty of medications available to treat the headaches and your specialist will be able to prescribe the correct treatment.

Risk Factors

Is there a cure for what causes a headache?

Headaches can affect the eyes and cause various symptoms including but not limited to weakness, vomiting, blurred vision, tenderness on the scalp and neck and sensory disturbances.

Headaches are experienced by a vast majority of people including young children. Statistics suggest that many adults who suffer from headaches began experiencing them as a child. A small percentage of adolescence also experience migraines and tension headaches, some are non-progressive. Headaches in children can be due to illness, diet or stress factors to name just a few.

Finding a cure for what causes a headache is something that can be beneficial for many people.

How do headaches develop?

There are several factors that are linked to the development of recurrent headaches. These factors include:

  • – Increased anxiety
  • – Problems sleeping
  • – Depression
  • – Snoring
  • – Obesity
  • – Excessive use of pain medications
  • – Excessive caffeine intake
  • – Poor posture, especially positions that put a strain on the neck and head


Though it is always better to try natural remedies before more severe drugs, if natural options do not help to alleviate your headaches, then seeking medical, professional help is the next step to take. Some headaches could be your body’s way of telling you that something more serious is going on and you need to have it looked at and treated as soon as possible.

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There are many different kinds of headaches, and even though they have some symptoms that are different, they are all painful. Other headache symptoms can include sensitivity to light, irritability, and nausea.

Tension Headaches

Episodic Tension Headaches

In order to be classified as episodic tension headaches, these can occur no more often than 15 days per month. Some common tension headache symptoms associated with episodic tension headaches include:

  • a) Mild to moderate pain, described as pressure or throbbing
  • b) The pain is usually felt on the sides, front or top of the head
  • c) The pain often occurs mid-day and comes on gradually
  • d) The pain may subside within an hour or last several days.


Chronic Tension Headaches

These occur more frequently than 15 days per month and the headache symptoms associated may include:

  • – The pain is present constantly, although it may vary in severity throughout the day
  • – The pain is located on the sides, front or top of the head
  • – The pain is intermittent over an extended period


Other symptoms associated with tension headaches, either chronic or episodic may include:

  • – Pain that is present upon awakening
  • – Sleep disturbances
  • – Difficulty concentrating
  • – Mild light sensitivity and noise sensitivity
  • – Constantly feeling fatigued
  • – Irritability
  • – Generalized aching in the muscles



The headache symptoms associated with migraines vary from one individual to the next. People often have a combination of symptoms that include:

  • 1) Moderate to severe pain, which is often described as throbbing or pounding. The pain can move from one side to the other of the head or can affect the entire head.
  • 2) Sensitivity to noise, light or smells
  • 3) Blurry vision
  • 4) Abdominal pain, stomach upset, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting
  • 5) Intolerance to heat or cold
  • 6) Paleness
  • 7) Loss of energy
  • 8) Dizziness
  • 9) An aura (seeing bright lights or dots, wavy lines or blind spots)


Cluster Headache Symptoms

Common symptoms include:

  • a) Severe piercing or burning pain that is constant or throbs on one side of the head.
  • b) In some cases, the pain is felt behind one eye or around the eye. It does not change sides.
  • c) Each episode may only last from 30 to 90 minutes but then comes back later in the day.
  • d) These tend to occur at the same time each day or wake the individual up at the same time each night.


Sinus Headaches Symptoms

  • a) The continual pain felt deep in the bridge of the nose, the forehead or in the cheekbones
  • b) The pain is usually worse with straining or with movement.
  • c) Sinus headaches typically occur with other signs of sinus problems: a runny nose, fever, fullness in the ears, swelling or tenderness of the face.



In order to diagnose your headaches, your doctor will want to know some background medical information about you, including the history of your headaches. The questions you may be asked may include:

  • – When did the headaches first begin and how long have you had them
  • – What kind of pain you experience, one kind or many different types
  • – How frequently your pain occurs
  • – If you know anything that causes the headaches to occur, for instance: foods, medications, situations
  • – If any close relatives have migraines or head pain
  • – If you have any symptoms between the episodes, and what they are
  • – If your episodes have affected your school or job performance


Your doctor will also want to know specific facts about your headache pain, such as:

  • – It’s location
  • – How it feels, for instance: throbbing, burning, band-like or vice-like
  • – The severity of the pain: mild, moderate or severe. Or you may be asked to rate your pain on a scale from 1 to 10.
  • – How long the pain lasts
  • – If you have warning symptoms, or if the pain occurs suddenly with no other symptoms or aura (visual changes, bright lights or blind spots)
  • – When the pain occurs: a particular time of day or night
  • – If other symptoms accompany the head pain: nausea, irritability, fatigue, light sensitivity
  • – How often the pain occurs


After gathering information about the headache symptoms, your doctor will also need to know if you have been treated before and if you have ever taken any medications to treat headaches. This includes past and current medications, both prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.

After the physician obtains your history, a physical examination will be completed that includes neurological tests. The doctor will be looking for indications of another illness that could be responsible for your head pain, such as:

  • – Abnormalities in temperature, pulse, respiration or blood pressure
  • – Signs of infection
  • – Nausea or vomiting
  • – Personality changes, confusion
  • – Seizures
  • – Loss of consciousness
  • – Loss of energy, wanting to sleep all of the time
  • – Muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling
  • – Changes in speech
  • – Problems with balance
  • – Dizziness
  • – Changes in vision (blurred or double vision or blind spots)


Certain disorders of the nerves or brain, such as multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, can also cause migraines and other pain in the head. Your doctor may order neurological tests to rule out diseases like these as possible causes for your pain. Neurological tests can also find other problems in your brain that may be causing your symptoms such as:

  • – Tumors
  • – Infections in the brain
  • – Bleeding in the brain
  • – Meningitis
  • – Increased pressure within the brain
  • – Blood clots
  • – Injury or trauma to the head or the brain
  • – Sinus disorders
  • – Disorders of the blood vessels
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There are many different ways to treat headaches, and the treatment that works well for one person may not be effective for someone else. Most doctors agree that making lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of stress, avoidance of triggers and regular exercise are essential components of headache treatment.

Medications as a cure for a headache

There are several different medications available to help prevent and treat tension and migraine headaches.

Tension headaches

Over-the-counter pain medications such as Aleve (naproxen), aspirin, Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) are usually effective for most tension headaches. The problem that sometimes occurs with these medications is that taking too many of them (three or more times per week) can cause “rebound” headaches. These rebound headaches can be difficult to treat. Aspirin should not be given to anyone less than 19 years old due to the risk of Reye’s Syndrome.

Migraine headaches

Medications known as “triptans” are widely used to treat migraine headaches. They come in pill form and also as skin patches and in injectable form. Examples of triptans are Amerge (naratriptan), Imitrex and Zecuity (sumatriptan) and Maxalt (rizatriptan).

Another option suitable as a cure for a headache like a migraine and is available as a suppository is Ergotamine. A nasal spray that quickly constricts blood vessels and decreases inflammation is also available.

If they are taken early, at the very first sign of a migraine, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be effective.

For people who have at least three migraines per month that are prolonged and severe, doctors may prescribe a preventive treatment that is taken continually. Examples of these preventive treatments may include:

  • – Certain medications used to control high blood pressure
  • – Certain medications used for depression
  • – Certain medications used for epilepsy
  • – Muscle relaxants
  • – Biofeedback and relaxation therapies
  • – Avoidance of certain foods
  • – Cefaly: This is a small headband-like device that sends impulses through the skin of the forehead to a nerve that is associated with migraines.


Cluster headaches

A cure for a headache like a cluster type can include the inhalation of pure oxygen because regular pain tablets may not be effective enough to alleviate the pain. For other people, placing lidocaine or a similar anesthetic inside the nose is helpful. The use of triptans or ergotamine if taken at the very onset of a cluster headache can also be helpful in some cases. In many cases, medications to prevent migraines such as a blood pressure medication, or steroids, are given at the first sign of a new cluster of headaches.

Prevention to help boost cure for a headache

Not all headaches can be prevented, but the following suggestions may be helpful and could eliminate having to seek an effective cure for a headache:

  • Avoid triggers – Start keeping a diary if you’re not certain what if anything triggers your headaches. Write down specific details each time you get a headache. These details should include what time did it start, what you were doing when it started, what and when did you eat prior to the onset, how long did it last, how much sleep had you been getting, did you take anything for the pain and if so, did it help. You may eventually begin to see a pattern. You can use this information to avoid your triggers.


  • Avoid overuse of medication – The use of medications for headaches, even over-the-counter drugs, three or more times per week can cause your headaches to occur more often and be more severe. These are known as “rebound headaches.” If you are using medications too frequently, talk to your doctor about how to decrease your use. It can be dangerous to abruptly stop or decrease some drugs.


  • Get enough rest – Try to go to bed and get up at approximately the same time each day and try to get at least seven hours of sleep per night.


  • Eat regular meals – Eat breakfast every day and have lunch and dinner at regular times. Avoid caffeine and any other drinks or foods that act as triggers for your headaches.


  • Exercise regularly – Physical activity can improve your physical health and your mental outlook, as well as reduce stress. Get your doctor’s approval, then start slowly to avoid injury.


  • Reduce stress – Many chronic headaches are caused by stress. Try to simplify your life and keep a positive attitude. Plan ahead and find time to relax each day. Take a warm bath, meditate, listen to music or read. Try yoga or relaxation exercises such as tai chi.


  • Limit caffeine – Or even better, eliminate it altogether. It can make headaches worse. Try to limit or eliminate alcohol also.


Pathological Changes

Primary headaches are those headaches that are not a symptom of some other disease or illness in your body. These headaches are caused by the structures in your head that are responsible for sensing pain. A variety of factors or a combination of factors can contribute to their development including the muscles in your neck and head, chemical interactions in your brain, the blood vessels or nerves in your head outside of your skull. Some people are more prone to primary headaches due to their genetic makeup. Common primary headaches include:

  • a) Migraines
  • b) Tension-type headaches
  • c) Cluster headaches


Other primary headaches that are sometimes a symptom of another disease or illness and have distinct characteristics include:

  • 1) Cough headaches
  • 2) Sex headaches
  • 3) Exercise headaches
  • 4) Chronic daily headaches


There is another group of primary headaches that are caused by external or lifestyle factors. These include:

  • – Alcohol, especially red wine
  • – Stress
  • – Poor posture
  • – Skipped meals
  • – Lack of sleep or changes in sleep habits
  • – Certain foods


Secondary headaches

Secondary headaches occur as a result of another disease or condition that activates the pain-sensor nerves in the head. Many conditions can cause secondary headaches and these conditions vary greatly in severity. Some of these conditions include:

  • – Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • – Acute sinusitis
  • – Blood clots
  • – Dental problems
  • – Concussion
  • – Hangovers
  • – Glaucoma
  • – Influenza
  • – Dehydration
  • – Brain tumor


Other natural cure for headache symptoms involve remedies that may include but not be limited to the following:

  • a) Vaporizing essential oil and inhaling the steam (peppermint oil is analgesic and helps to alleviate inflammation)
  • b) Combine Lavender and Chamomile essential oil with fractionated coconut oil for a soothing massage. You can add orange or other essential oil with citrus properties as it is known to uplift a low mood and to help you relax. The sedative qualities of lavender and chamomile are great for a good nights rest and to soothe your headache.
  • c) Using an ice pack at the back of your neck to help alleviate the inflammation associated with a headache.


Read also: Tips to Avoid Headaches: Sleeping, Bedding, Napping, & Pain Killers



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