The word “headache” covers a wide range of discomforts and has a wide range of causes. In order to understand possible causes of headaches it is necessary to determine what type of headache the individual is suffering from. Most physicians categorize headaches in the following way:
- Primary headaches: these are primarily caused by localized muscle tension and by migraines.
- Secondary headaches: these are a symptom of an underlying condition such as hemorrhage in the brain, a cancerous growth, meningitis or encephalitis.
- Rarely, a third type of headache occurs, known as a cluster headache. This is a recurring type of headache the causes of which are not well understood at this time. There may be a genetic component because cluster headaches tend to be passed on from parents to children. Other factors may include insufficient sleep, consumption of chocolate, alcohol, and tobacco products, and certain medications.
Various types of muscular stress can induce primary headaches, including tension in the neck and shoulders and tension of the eyes. Eye-strain induced headaches are very common in people who compensate for short-sightedness or long-sightedness by squinting and neck and shoulder stress is common in people who sit for long periods of time in positions that are bio-mechanically unsatisfactory. In both cases, becoming aware of these bad habits can significantly reduce the incidence of stress-induced headaches. Additionally, taking conventional pain killers like Ibuprofen and Paracetamol will usually clear up such headaches within twenty minutes or so provided that the individual stops doing whatever it was that caused the headache to occur in the first place. Likewise migraine headaches are often triggered by particular actions such as exposure to bright light or consumption of a “trigger” substance such as alcohol.
Secondary headaches are symptoms of underlying causes including:
- Injuries to the head and neck, such as whiplash or other impacts that can cause concussion and/or damage to nerves and muscles in the head and neck, shoulders, or spine.
- Damage to blood vessels serving the head and particularly the brain, such as clots, strokes, and transient ischemic attack (TIA) resulting from loss of blood supply to particular parts of the brain.
- Malformation of the arteries or veins serving the head, such as distention of the blood vessel wall, resulting in irregular blood flow to the brain.
- Inflammation of the carotid artery or the temporal artery that carry blood to the brain.
- Brain tumors, causing pressure within the cranium.
- Excessive pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid within the spinal canal.
- Meningitis, which is an inflammation of the membranes that protect the brain and spinal chord, that can be caused by a variety of bacteria and viral agents.
- Encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain, most usually caused by infection.
- Infections such as pneumonia and influenza.
- Hypertension (high blood pressure).
- Dehydration, which is insufficient water in the body that results in reduction of overall blood volume and an increase in its viscosity. Sometimes this can be a symptom of incipient kidney failure.
- Abnormally low thyroid hormone production because of problems with the thyroid gland.
If an individual suffers from recurring headaches and these are not readily treated with over-the-counter medications, it is important to consult a doctor immediately so that a thorough diagnosis can be made.
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