Causes of Headaches

The causes of headaches are many and it can be triggered by a number of things. A headache is defined as a pain or ache in the head. The pain originates from the tissues and structures that surround the skull or the brain. The tissues usually become inflamed or irritated and cause headache. There are many types of headaches and their causes are different. The pain may be a dull ache, sharp, throbbing, constant, intermittent, mild, or intense.

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Causes of headaches

What are the causes of headaches? This is a question that many people ask. We will look at the headache causes in two categories; primary headaches and secondary headaches.

1) Primary headaches

The primary headaches are individual illnesses that is caused directly by the over activity of structures in the head that are pain sensitive or problems associated with the structures. This includes the muscles, blood vessels as well as the nerves of the head and neck. The headache occurs when the pain-sensitive structures in the head do not work correctly

The most primary headaches include cluster headaches, tension, and migraines headaches.
Some headaches patterns can also be generally considered as types of primary headache, although they are less common. They have distinct features such as an odd period or ache linked to a certain activity.

They can be considered primary, but each could be a symptom of an underlying disease. These can be

  1. Cough headaches
  2. Chronic daily headaches
  3. Sex headaches
  4. Exercise headaches

Other primary headaches can be activated by lifestyle factors, these can include:

  1. Certain foods such as processed meats that contain nitrates
  2. Alcohol
  3. Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
  4. Skipped meals
  5. Poor posture
  6. Stress

2) Secondary headaches

This type of headaches is mainly headaches that are symptoms of another condition that stimulates the pain-sensitive nerves of the head.

A number of different conditions can cause secondary headaches. It can range from an alcohol induced hangover to a brain tumor.

The following is a list to illustrate the variety of diverse conditions that can lead to secondary headaches, though there many others.

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Concussion
  • Glaucoma
  • Dehydration
  • Influenza and other febrile illnesses
  • Panic attacks
  • Stroke
  • Acute sinusitis
  • Blood clot within the brain
  • Arterial tears
  • Brain aneurysm – a bulge in an artery in your brain
  • Chiari malformation – structural problem at the base of your skull
  • Brain tumor
  • Dehydration
  • Brain AVM – an abnormal formation of brain blood vessels
  • Giant cell arteritis – inflammation of the lining of the arteries
  • Ear infection
  • Dental problems
  • Glaucoma – acute angle closure glaucoma
  • High blood pressure
  • Meningitis
  • Hangovers
  • Intracranial hematoma
  • Encephalitis – brain inflammation
  • Medications to treat other disorders
  • Post-concussion syndrome
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Panic attacks and panic disorder
  • Pressure from tight headgear
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Pseudotumor cerebri

Some types of secondary headaches include:

  1. Sinus headaches – headaches that are brought by inflammation and congestion in sinus cavities
  2. External compression headaches – a result of pressure causing headgear
  3. Rebound headaches , these are caused by overuse of pain medication
  4. Ice cream headaches
  5. Thunderclap headaches – a group of disorders that involves sudden and severe headaches with multiple causes
  6. Spinal headaches – caused by low pressure or volume of cerebrospinal fluid

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Some Headache Types Explained

Tension headaches

Tension headaches, which are the most common headaches, have been linked to things such as stress, skipping meals, poor posture and dehydration, though the exact cause is unclear

Medication and painkiller headaches

These are headaches that are caused by taking a particular medication. Sometimes frequent headaches can also be caused by taking too many painkillers, which is known as a painkiller or medication-overuse headache.

The headache usually stops once you stop taking the painkillers that are causing it.

Hormone headaches

They mostly occur in women especially during their monthly periods, taking contraceptive pill, during menopause or pregnancy which is the main triggers.

Reducing your stress levels, ensuring you don’t miss meals, having a regular sleeping pattern may help reduce headaches which are associated with your menstrual cycle.

Other causes of headaches

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Temporomandibular disorders – problems affecting the “chewing” muscles and joints found between the base of the skull  and the lower jaw
  • A cold or flu
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Sleep apnoea – a condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow while a sleep, interrupting normal breathing
  • Fever
  • Emotional stress and depression
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Skipping meals
  • Eyestrain and neck or back strain due to poor posture.
  • Your environment, such as strong smells from household chemicals or perfumes, secondhand tobacco smoke, allergens and certain foods.

In many cases, it is possible to treat the headaches at home with over the counter painkillers or changing your lifestyle, such as having more rest and drinking enough fluids.

Sometimes headaches can be a symptom of a serious condition. Always seek medical advice if headaches become more regular, severe or persistent.

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