Everyone gets a headache now and then. Stress at work, eye strain, allergies or sinus issues, dehydration and many other issues can give you that distracting, painful feeling. A headache, or cephalgia, is one of the most common medical complaints. Many headaches are stand alone issues, but there are times when there may be an underlying cause related to a disease or serious medical problem.
Primary headaches are caused by over activity or some dysfunction with the pain-sensitive structures in the head. Interestingly, it’s not your brain. The brain itself doesn’t have pain receptors, but everything around it and supporting it does. Tension, migraine, and cluster headaches are all primary, with the most common being the tension headache. There can also be lifestyle triggers. Reducing these or removing them from your daily routine can reduce your problem. Some triggers include:
- Certain foods, such as processed meats or chocolate
- Alcohol, particularly red wine
- Lack of sleep
- Consistently poor posture
- Poor eating habits (too much time between meals or snacks)
A Secondary Headache is more typically a symptom of an illness or disease that activates the pain receptors in the head. The conditions, severity and time vary greatly. For example, brain freeze from eating cold food too quickly is considered a Secondary Headache, but it can pass relatively quickly. Having the flu, sinusitis, a hang-over (dehydration), ear infections, or dental problems can also cause Secondary Headaches. However, there are other medical problems that can cause headaches that need quick attention by a professional.
Causes of Secondary Headaches also include:
- Blood clots
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Overuse of pain medication (rebound headaches)
- Panic attacks
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Intracranial hematoma (blood vessel ruptures with bleeding in or around the brain)
- Medications to treat other disorders
- Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord)
Headaches can be part of a much more serious condition. When you get a headache, look at the factors. If you just ate some ice cream too quickly, it’s more likely brain freeze and will pass. If you are prone to tension headaches, you can begin to see the patterns and avoid them.
If your headaches change – they get more severe, come in waves, cause blurred vision, are accompanied by a fever, can’t be relieved with usual medication, or become more regular and last longer – it’s important to see your doctor. There may be a more detrimental underlying condition that needs quick medical attention.