The most common headaches are likely caused by tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp, and jaw. These are called tension headaches. They are often related to stress, depression, or anxiety.
Overworking, not getting enough sleep, missing meals, and using alcohol or street drugs can make you more likely to get them. Headaches can be triggered by:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
People who drink caffeine can have headaches when they don't get their usual daily amount.
Other common causes include:
- Clenching or grinding your teeth
- Exerting yourself too much
- Holding your head in one position for a long time, like at a computer, microscope, or typewriter
- Poor sleep position
Tension headaches tend to be on both sides of your head. They often start at the back of your head and spread forward. The pain may feel dull or squeezing, like a tight band or vice. Your shoulders, neck, or jaw may feel tight and sore. The pain is usually persistent, but it does not get worse with activity.
Migraine headaches are severe headaches that usually occur with other symptoms such as vision disturbances or nausea. The pain may be described as throbbing, pounding, or pulsating. It tends to begin on one side of your head, although it may spread to both sides.
You may have an "aura" (a group of warning symptoms that start before your headache). The pain usually gets worse as you try to move around. For more information on this type of headache, see:
Other types of headaches:
Cluster headachesare sharp, very painful headaches that tend to occur several times per day for months and then go away for a similar period of time. They are far less common than other types of headaches.
- Sinus headaches cause pain in the front of your head and face. They are due to inflammation in the sinus passages behind the cheeks, nose, and eyes. The pain tends to be worse when you bend forward and when you first wake up in the morning.
Postnasal drip, sore throat, and nasal discharge usually occur with these headaches.
Headaches may occur if you have a cold, the flu, fever, or premenstrual syndrome.
If you are over age 50 and are getting headaches for the first time, a condition called
Rare causes of headache include:
Brain aneurysm-- a weakening of the wall of a blood vessel that can break open and bleed into the brain
- Brain infection like
meningitisor encephalitis Brain tumor
Review Date: 10/30/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.