Medically reviewed by: Ilbey Ucar – PhD (Psychology)

Last updated date : January 12, 2023

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Chapter 1:

What Is a Headache?

Picture of an inflamed brain inside an artificial head

Millions of us see doctors, chiropractors, pharamcists, masseuses for headaches every day. They cause grief, frustration and a loss of productivity. Fortunately, the vast majority of headaches causes don’t require a health professionals input. Can stress cause headaches? Certainly, in this article we break down headaches, when you should see a doctor (the red flags) and ways to prevent stress headaches.

There are 100+ different headaches causes that we know of. Stress headaches, headaches due to low magnesium, headaches from bad posture, etc. How do we tell them apart? And when should you see a doctor about your headaches?

A minor headache is just a small inconvenience that can be relieved by a pain killer, coffee, some food, or rest. Fortunately, this encompasses most headaches we experience. However, if the headaches are severe, persisting, or changing in nature-it’s best to seek your doctor’s advice.

The Main Categories of Headaches.

Headaches are basically divided into two types as Primary Headaches and Secondary Headaches.

Primary Headaches

When the headache itself is the problem with no other underlying disease or condition, that is called a Primary Headache. The pain can be severe to a point that it disrupts day-to-day activities. Still, Primary Headaches are not dangerous. Primary headaches happen due to the overactivity of the pain-sensitive structure of one’s head.

Some of the most common primary headaches are:

  1. Tension Headache
  2. Cluster Headache
  3. Migraine Headache
  4. Hypnic Headache

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are rare but can be more dangerous than primary headaches. They can be a warning sign of an underlying serious illness. These headaches typically start out of nowhere and are extremely painful.

Chapter 2:

What Causes Headaches?

Anything that triggers the pain receptors in a your neck, face or head can cause a headache. These are just a few of the 100+ causes. Can stress cause headaches? Yes. How about muscle tension, dental problems, medication, high blood pressure, dehydration? Yes, they all can.  Here are a list of common headache causes:
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Muscle aches, especially around the neck
  • Poor diet
  • Dehydration
  • Injuries to eye
  • Glaucoma (known for high pressure in the eyes)
  • Medication side effects
  • Bad posture
  • Poor or lack of sleep
  • Sleep apnea
  • Poorly controlled diabetes
  • Sinusitis
  • Viral Infections
  • Structural damage to nerves around head and neck

Chapter 3:

Are Headaches Hereditary?

Headaches such as Migraines can be hereditary. Kids with Migraines are more likely to have a parent with Migraines. Headaches also happen due to environmental reasons. Certain food ingredients such as caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, or cheese could trigger headaches. Second-hand smoke is one reason. Strong odors are another.

Chapter 4:

When Should I Worry About My Headache?

Young boy with a painful headache sitting on the ground holding his head with both hands

While most headaches can be taken care of easily, some may call for prompt medical attention. These are a few warning signs of such cases.

  • When the headache is accompanied by a painful red eye.
  • Headache that disrupts daily activities
  • When it changes/ malfunctions personality
  • Unusual severity
  • When you develop a headache first after the age of 50
  • Pain that increases with movement
  • When headaches are accompanied by a stiff neck, confusion, visual issues, numbness, seizure, and other complications.
  • If the patient has cancer
  • Abrupt headaches that take you by surprise
  • When a noticeable change in the pattern of headaches occur

Chapter 5:

Few Types of Headaches and Their Symptoms

There are over 150 types of headaches and this look is on a few of the most common headaches.

The most common primary headaches can either be,

  • Episodic – occurs every so often or occasionally. May last from about half an hour to three hours.
  • Chronic – More consistent than Episodic headaches. They may occur most of the days and may need a pain management plan.
Tension Headache (Primary)
This is the most common type of headache. It causes mild or intense pain behind the eyes or in your eyes or neck. Tension headaches tend to be Episodic, but there are instances where the headaches are Chronic. These headaches are caused by muscle contraction in the head and neck areas.  Those contractions may happen due to stress, food triggers, or other activities. Cold temperature or a long screen time may also develop tension headaches.  Except for these causes, alcohol abuse, fatigue, eye strain, smoking, flu, flawed posture, emotional stress, dehydration, lack of sleep, and skipping meals may also result in a tension headache. Tension headache mostly turns up in the middle of the day. In Episodic cases, the pain may last from 30 mins to several hours. In Chronic cases, the pain may come and go at different times over a long period, differentiated on severity.
Causes for Tension Headache
There is no exact cause for tension headache. They don’t run in families. The triggers of each headache is unique.
Symptoms of Tension Headache
  • Increasing pressure around your forehead, head pain, and tenderness around the scalp.
  • Throbbing pain from either one or both sides of your head, top or front.
  • Crankiness
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Waking up with a headache
  • Often happens in the middle of the day.
  • Easily irritable
Cluster Headaches (Primary)
Popular for the severe piercing pain it causes, specifically behind an eye or on one side of the face. The side that’s been attacked could swell, become red, flush, and sweat. Most that experience cluster headaches report about 4 headaches a day, usually around the same time daily, during a cluster. Resolving one headache will soon be followed by the next.

These daily Cluster headache attacks may continue for months at a time. However, in between clusters, the individual will be symptom-free. These headaches are more common in men.

Causes for Cluster Headache
Doctors are not clear of the causes.
Symptoms of Cluster Headache
When the below symptoms set in, it only takes 5 to 10 minutes to reach their worst.

Pain From Cluster Headache – a burning piercing feeling, lasting from 15 minutes to 3 hours at a time. often felt on one side of the head but could switch. Mostly centered behind one eye, and can spread across the nose forehead, temple and gums. You may find it easier to pace than to lie down.

Congestion – One side of the nose becoming runny or fluffy.

Eye Issues – a drooping eyelid, eye pain, or watering eye. In addition, the eye pupil could get smaller. All of these signs take place on the same side that the pain is.

Face Changes – sweating and flushing.

Migraine Headaches (Primary)
Migraine pain is often described as a throbbing pulsing pain inside the head. it may begin from one side and is prone to cause nausea as well as sensitivity to light and sound. These headaches can last from 4 hours to 3 days.
Symptoms and Phases
Symptoms vary from person to person and differ according to severity. Here are the phases and a few noticeable symptoms of a Migraine attack.
Prodrome Phase (Pre-Migraine signs)

This is a change in mood and in the sensation that you may experience before a Migraine hit. You could be feeling cranky or depressed while noticing a weird taste or smell. Fatigue and muscle tension can also take place along with increased yawning, constipation, or food cravings. Hours or a day before the migraine begins, these signs can be noticed. In some cases, these stages before the headache help doctors diagnose the problem before the headache.

Aura Phase (Feeling strange)

Not everyone goes through an Aura phase before the Migraine. This phase can include,

  • change in vision – a flickering light that usually appears on the left or right side of your vision. Similarly, within the course of few minutes, it may grow bigger. You may also detect a blind spot in your field of vision., and may start hallucinating. These symptoms may get worse within several minutes.
    • Skin irritation – You may feel tingling sensations on your skin as if you’re being slowly touched by a needle. However, these sensations may worsen on the hands and face., and may continue to expand throughout the body.
    • Language issues – You may experience trouble communicating and getting words out. In addition, you may be confused with conversation and find it hard to understand written text.
Attack Phase (Migraine)
During this phase you will find yourself wanting to lie quietly, avoiding all other activities. The pain will usually begin above an eye, affecting the same side of your head, may feel throbbing and pulling. It tends to worsen if you move around.

At this stage you will also start experiencing extreme sensitivity to light and sounds, feel faintish and nauseous.

Postdromal Phase (after the attack)

Typically, you will feel unwell for several days. You may experience lethargy, exhaustion, confusion, and inability to engage in day-to-day work.

Note – Migraine attacks can be very severe leading up to strokes or seizures, that may require immediate help.

Sinus Headache (Secondary)
The pain that’s behind your face that seems to worsen every time you bend forward could be a Sinus Headache.
Cause for Sinus Headaches
Sinuses; which are air-filled holes in the forehead, cheekbones, and behind the nose bridge becoming inflamed and thus making more mucus leads to channels that drain them getting blocked. This build-up of pressure in your sinuses becomes a headache. This happens due to an infection or an allergy.
Symptoms of Sinus Headache
  • Mouth tasting bad
  • Fever
  • Deep constant pain.
  • Pain that worsens with sudden head moves
  • Snot
  • Fullness in ears

Chapter 6:

Prevention and Treatment for Primary Headaches

Old lady with short golden hair in her garden experiencing a headache

There are practices you can add to your life to be rid of headaches. Most of it is lifestyle changes. Primary headaches can be life-altering but are still not dangerous.

Surround yourself with your support system

spend time with people that will keep you happy. Engage in relaxing activities. Do more things that make you feel good. Meet a therapist if necessary. Start working towards soothing your mental health.

Get enough sleep. Drink enough water and do not skip meals!

Limiting sleep to keep your mind engaged with work may distress your mental health. Rest is essential to handle days full of stress. Lack of water in your body can easily lead to headaches. Make sure to consume fresh water regardless of being thirsty or not. Eating right is also essential to avoid the throbbing pain in your head. Consume balanced meals, preferably at the same time. Include lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet. These practices will keep you energetic, thus making headaches a rare occurrence.

Limit alcohol or any other edible that triggers headache

Caffeine, sweet, and alcohol hangovers trigger headaches. Less coffee and tea and energy drinks will help avoid a long-term headache.

Avoid stress. Medication

Stressful situations, stressful people, activities, all fall into this category. try your best to avoid people things or places that may affect your mental health negatively. If you cannot do so, cheer yourself up soon after the stressful situation is done!

Give yourself a break

Do not tread too long on anything. Try to take a break in between stressful work. Take a walk or listen to music. Try not to stress on things that are out of your control. Always remember that your mental health is the biggest priority. Focus on now, then what happened and what might happen.

Keep track of your headaches

A headache diary will help you track the severity and occurrence of your headaches. This will give you an understanding of whether things are getting better or if you need medical attention. add to this, the medication you take so your health provider is further informed.

Abortive treatment to stop attacks

The odds are, by the time you get to a doctor your headache may have stopped. If you manage to meet a doctor while a headache lasts, injected medicine or nasal spray can effectively treat a headache.

Physiotherapy, Acupuncture

External pain and stress relieving methods.

Chapter 7:

How Is a Headache Diagnosed?

To diagnose an individual for a headache, the healthcare provider will do a follow-up on their medical history. This may include not only your but your family’s medical history as well.

They will question you on several things including the below questions but not restricted to.

  • Of the symptoms, you’re experiencing
  • About the timeline of your headaches
  • About how long you have been suffering with it
  • Of the type and location of your pain
  • Of what makes your headache better in any way
  • About how often you get these attacks
  • About the food or activities that may have triggered the headache
  • Of before and after experiences of the headache

If these findings are not enough, your healthcare provider may also order blood tests and imaging tests such as CT or MRI to make your diagnosis clear and to rule out any other severe illnesses you may have.

Chapter 8:

Secondary Headaches; A Quick Overview

Secondary Headaches happen due to an underlying medical condition. These are far more serious than primary headaches, which are only destructive due to the pain.

The reason behind a secondary headache can be a neck injury, spine injury, internal head injury, or an infection (ex- Sinus). In their worst-case scenario, Secondary headaches can be a sign of,

  • Brain tumor
  • Brain Infection
  • Hydrocephalus
  • The issue with blood vessels
  • High blood pressure

How can I detect a Secondary Headache?

If you’re over 50 years old, jolting pains from headaches that you’ve never had before are one of the significant signs of a secondary headache. Headaches that are severe enough to wake you up from sleep, worsens with changing postures, exertions, or with simple activities such as coughing or sneezing, and sometimes even while chewing food, hold the possibility of being Secondary Headaches. They require further investigation by a specialist.

Other symptoms of a secondary headache that is in a much severe state include,

  • Slurred speech
  • Mental confusion
  • Your “worst ever” headache
  • Vomiting without being nauseous
  • Visual loss/abnormalities
  • Stiff neck
  • Mental confusion
  • Inability to move a limb/limbs
  • Fever

In the case of facing the above issues with an unexplained headache, urgent medical attention is necessary.

"Quick online learning, thanks!" Susan

92 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount