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Causes of Headaches and Treatment for Headache Pain

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Headache causes, symptoms and treatments for headache pain

By Katherine Solem 

There are many different types of headaches, each with distinct causes. Yet, regardless of the cause, headaches can be painful and interfere with your life. Learn what causes headaches, how to treat headache pain and how you can prevent headaches from starting in the first place.

Causes and Types of Headaches

There are several different types of headaches, each classified by its cause. The two overarching categories are primary headaches and secondary headaches. Primary headache is when a headache is not a symptom of a different disease (for example, your headache is not as a symptom of the flu) while secondary headaches are caused by an underlying condition (such as the flu or allergies).

  • Primary headaches: These headaches are not symptoms of an underlying disease.
       
    • Types and their causes:
         
      • Cluster headache: Cluster headaches are characterized by sharp, painful headaches that occur several times a day over and can persist for months. If you suffer from cluster headaches you will likely also have remission periods during which these headaches no longer occur.
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      • Migraine: Migraine headaches are characterized by throbbing or pulsing in a localized area on your head. This headache is often accompanied by nausea and extreme light sensitivity and can also cause vomiting.
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      • Tension headache: This is the most common type of headache and is characterized by a less localized, more diffuse pain across the head. 
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      • Chronic daily headache: This more general category involves headaches that occur almost every day.
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      • Cough headache: These headaches are caused by coughing or other straining including sneezing, blowing your nose, laughing, singing, crying or having a bowel movement.
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      • Exercise headache: As the name would suggest, exercise headaches occur during or following exercise.
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      • Hypnic headache: These headaches are classified by waking you up at night.
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      • Sex headache: These headaches occur as a result of sexual activity. Sex headaches are most common before or during orgasm.
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    • Causes: While the cause of a headache can vary depending on the type of headache, certain factors can trigger primary headaches or increase the likelihood of developing a primary headache.
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  • Secondary headaches: These headachesare caused by an underlying disease or condition which can trigger pain in your head thus causing a headache.
       
    • Types and their causes:
         
      • External compression headache: These headaches are due to wearing something that put pressure on your head.
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      • Ice cream headaches: More commonly known as a ‘brain freeze,' these headaches are due to eating something cold too quickly.
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      • Rebound headaches: These are caused by excessive use of pain medications.
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      • Sinus headaches: Inflammation and/or congestion can cause a headache. These headaches do not usually involve nausea or vomiting.
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      • Spinal headaches: A spinal tap or spinal anesthesia can deplete your levels of cerebrospinal fluid and cause a headache.
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      • Thunderclap headaches: This headache is characterized by a sudden onset of a very severe headache. These headaches can often signal a severe, potentially life-threatening, condition; you should seek emergency medical attention immediately if you experience one.
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    • Causes: In addition to the types of secondary headaches listed above, other underlying issues can activate pain sensors and cause headaches. 
         
      • Arterial tear
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      • Blood clot
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      • Brain problem: Headaches can be caused by a variety of brain problems including an aneurysm (widening or ballooning of artery), encephalitis (brain inflammation), brain arteriovenous malformation (abnormal blood vessel formation), intracranial hematoma (ruptured blood vessel), or brain tumor (abnormal tissue growth).
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      • Carbon monoxide poisoning
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      • Chiari malformation: This structural abnormality on the base of your skull can cause headaches.
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      • Concussion: A physical trauma to your headache can cause a headache.
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      • Flu: Headaches are a common symptom of the flu.
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      • Giant cell arteritisThis arterial disease causes inflammation of the lining of your arteries. Although it can affect other arteries, it most often affects those in the brain which causes you to have a severe headache.
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      • Glaucoma
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      • Hangovers
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      • Meningitis
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      • Monosodium glutamate (MSG): While often used to enhance the flavor in Chinese food, too much MSG can cause severe headaches.
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      • Stroke
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      • Trigeminal neuralgia: Disruption of the nerve that connects your face and your brain.

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