Causes of Headache
Headaches have literally hundreds of causes. In most cases, the cause of a headache is a simple condition: just the everyday common headache, a tension headache, or something similar. But there are also more chronic types of headache, and also there is a possibility that a headache is caused by a severe medical condition like stroke or brain injury.
Simple Causes: There are a number of types of headache that have simple causes. The common everyday headache is well-known, but not the only one. Some causes of headache include:
- Common Headache.
- Common cold
- Tension Headache. A simple type of headache due to emotional tension or physical muscle tension.
- Cluster headache.
- Sexual headache. A type of vascular headache that develops during sexual arousal, and usually dissipates afterwards.
- Drug side-effects. Various medications can cause headache as a side-effect or a “rebound headache”; discuss with your doctor.
- Contraceptive pill. In some women, some types of contraceptive pill can cause headache.
- Neck Muscle Strain. Poor posture can cause neck strain and result in a headache.
- Alcohol (hangover)
- Red wine reaction (“red wine headache” in some people)
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Cold-induced headache (“brain freeze”; “ice-cream headache”)
- Eye strain. Various visual disorders or eye problems can cause headache.
Chronic or Recurring Headache Conditions: Some people get daily headaches, called Chronic Daily Headache (CDH). There are various medical conditions with chronic headache, potentially including many of the causes of headache in general, but also some specific causes of chronic headaches include:
- Migraine. A well-known cause of recurring headaches. The diagnosis of migraine is actually a somewhat involved process of diagnosis by exclusion. There are various subtypes of migraine: classical migraine, occipital migraine, etc.
- Tension headaches
- Cluster Headache
- Muscle Contraction Headache
- Vascular Headache
Infectious Causes of Headache: If you have an illness, such as a virus, it is common for a headache to develop. Usually there are other symptoms such as fever. Almost any disease that causes fever can also cause headache. Causes of headache include:
- Viral infection
- Flu. A headache is a common symptom of the flu (influenza).
- Sinusitis. A common complication of the common cold or other viral infection, which causes headache, usually with other types of pain (e.g. face pain, cheek pain, etc.)
- Common Cold. A headache is likely with a common cold, but is not as likely for a common cold as for, say, flu, and a headache from flu is likely to be more severe.
- Fever. Numerous conditions can cause fever, and a headache can result from a fever, especially a high fever), or the infection causing fever with headache. Read more about: Fever.
- Vomiting. A headache is also common due to vomiting, often after the vomiting episode. It is important to determine the cause of the vomiting; read more about: Vomiting.
Serious Brain or Head Conditions: A headache can be due to some serious problem with the brain, the skull, or the head. Many of these conditions can be a medical emergency. Some of the possibilities include:
- Stroke (brain clot; brain hemorrhage)
- Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
- Head Injury
- Post-concussion syndrome
- Intracranial hematoma
- Skull Fracture
- Brain hemorrhage (subdural hematoma, epidural hemorrhage, subarachnoid hemorrhage; intracranial hemorrhage)
- Brain Bruising
- Brain abscess
- Brain aneurysm (ruptured cerebral aneurysm)
- Meningococcal disease
- West Nile Encephalitis
- High Intra-Cranial Pressure (ICP)
- Pseudotumor cerebri
- Brain Tumor. Everyone talks about a headache being caused by a brain tumor, and sure, it can occur, but it’s really not very common!
- Metastatic brain cancer
Head Pain Conditions: Disorders affecting parts of the head, other than the brain, that cause headache or “head pain” include:
- Temporal Arteritis. An inflammation of the arteries of the head, which causes forehead pain or temple pain, and also extreme scalp tenderness (possibly one side of the scalp only), where the scalp may be painful to touch. In some cases, it may feel like the “scalp is on fire” and even wind blowing on the hair may cause extreme scalp pain.
- Trigeminal neuralgia. Causes a type of nerve pain from the nerves of the head, that is not really a “headache” but may be considered “head pain”.
- Occipital neuralgia. Nerve pain on the rear of the head.
- Sinusitis (acute or chronic). Causes pain in various parts of the head corresponding to the sinus cavities (e.g. forehead pain, painful cheeks, etc.)
Neck Spinal Conditions: A number of spine and spinal cord conditions may result in headache, such as:
- Neck sprain (cervical sprain)
- Cervical spondylosis (neck vertebra condition)
- Spinal fluid condition
- CSF leakage (CSF discharge)
Eye Conditions: Various eye disorders can result in headaches.
- Acute Glaucoma. This is an eye condition which usually has the hallmark symptom of blurred vision. This is a medical emergency; seek medical help immediately to prevent blindness.
- High Intraocular Pressure (IOP) (ocular hypertension)
- Vision Disorders (various types)
- Eye strain
- Eye disorders (various types)
Serious Conditions. A number of severe medical conditions can cause headache, such as:
- Essential hypertension
- Secondary hypertension
- Temporal arteritis
- Brain tumor
Febrile illnesses: Almost any condition causing a fever can also cause a headache. Some examples include:
- Common cold
- Anthrax infection
- Q fever
- Dengue fever
- West Nile fever
Medical Care Causes: various causes from treatments and tests include:
- Spinal fluid diagnostic test (lumbar puncture test) (side-effect)
- Cervical traction treatment (side-effect)
Drugs and Toxins: Substance-related causes of headache include:
- Caffeine toxicity
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Alcohol (hangover)
- Drug abuse
- Quinine medications (malaria treatment)
- Aspirin side-effect
- Medication side-effect
- Herbal remedy side-effect
Additional Indirect Causes: What are the causes of the causes of headache? See also the various causes of:
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Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.