What Causes your Head to Hurt

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Headaches are characterized by pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck, affecting nearly nine out of ten individuals at some stage in their lives. While some experience occasional headaches, others endure frequent and severe ones that significantly impact their well-being. Despite their prevalence, most headaches are not indicative of a serious underlying condition, though they can impair one’s ability to function optimally. Understanding the causes of headaches can provide insights into managing and alleviating discomfort.

Tension Headaches

This is the commonest type of headache which causes your head to hurt. It is most likely caused due to stress, depression, or anxiety.

Other factors which can precipitate tension headache:

  • Overworking.
  • Not sleeping enough.
  • Missing meals.
  • Using alcohol or street drugs.
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth.
  • Overexerting  one ’s self.
  • Holding your head in one position for a long time, such as looking at a computer, studying something under the microscope, or working on a typewriter.
  • Poor sleep position.

Some trigger factors for headaches are:

  • Cheese.
  • Chocolate.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG).
  • If you have coffee (caffeine) regularly your body gets used to it. Therefore, your head may start to hurt if you don’t get your usual daily dose.

In tension headaches, usually both sides of your head hurt. The headache typically starts at the back of the head and spreads forward. The pain is usually persistent (dull or squeezing like a tight band or vice) which does not worsen with activity.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine is the second most prevalent type of headache, characterized by intense pain that can persist for hours or even days. The pain is often described as throbbing, pounding, or pulsating, typically originating on one side of the head but potentially spreading to both sides. Alongside the pain, migraines can trigger additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and visual disturbances, which can significantly impair daily functioning. Individuals experiencing a migraine often seek solace in a dark, quiet environment to alleviate discomfort. Some migraine sufferers also experience auras, such as visual changes like flashes of light or sensory sensations like pins and needles in an arm or leg, either during or preceding an attack. However, migraines without auras are more common than those with auras.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are a less common yet more severe type of headache, occurring in clusters at the same time of day for several weeks. These headaches typically start suddenly, presenting as sharp or burning pain focused around one eye and lasting up to three hours.

Other types of headaches include sinus headaches, characterized by pain in the front of the head and face due to inflammation in the sinus passages, often exacerbated in the mornings or when bending forward. Symptoms may include postnasal drip, sore throat, and nasal discharge. Additionally, headaches can occur during colds, flu, fever, or as part of premenstrual syndrome.

Rare causes of headaches include brain aneurysms (weakened blood vessel walls leading to bleeding into the brain), brain infections such as meningitis or encephalitis, brain tumors, stroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA).

For most individuals, rest, relaxation, and over-the-counter pain medications like paracetamol or ibuprofen can alleviate headache symptoms. However, if pain is severe or frequent, it’s advisable to consult a doctor for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.