Why Does My Head Hurt?

Nearly everyone gets the occasional headache, a temporary inconvenience at worst. These types of headaches can usually be connected to something that triggered it. They often go away on their own or when the trigger is removed, and there is no cause for concern.

Other headaches can be an indication of something more serious going on in the body, and medical advice or even immediate assistance may be advisable.

How Prevalent are Headaches?

About half to three-quarters of adults throughout the world have at least one headache during the year, according to Statista, a German-based company specializing in market and consumer data. Nearly twice as many women as men are likely to have headaches, as reported in a 2018 National Health Interview Survey. Interestingly, the prevalence of headaches among U.S. adults significantly decreases across both sexes aged 75 years and older.

How Many Types of Headaches Are There?

Headaches can be divided into four main categories, each group with its own particular symptoms and triggers. While these vary, it is important to note that intensity, duration, and presence of additional symptoms can indicate a cause for concern.

1. Tension

Tension headaches are the most common headaches and are usually triggered by stress or muscle tension. This type of headache usually begins slowly, with a dull pain felt on both sides of the head.

2. Sinus

Sinus headaches are caused by the swelling of the sinus passages behind the eyes, cheeks, forehead, and nose. This swelling causes pain in the front of the face and head. It is often worse in the morning, when you move suddenly, or when you bend forward.

3. Migraines

Migraines are painful, intense, throbbing headaches, usually on one side of the head. They may last from four to 72 hours and can be debilitating. Migraines are often accompanied by nausea and extreme sensitivity to sound or light. See your doctor for help with a migraine.

4. Cluster

Cluster headaches often occur in a series and may recur every year or two. They can last weeks or even months, with symptoms that include a runny nose or congestion, severe pain on one side of the head, and swelling in the forehead.

What’s Triggering My Headache?

There are many possibilities. Here are some common triggers.

  • Dehydration
  • Lack of sleep
  • Withdrawal from caffeine
  • Fasting or detoxing in general
  • Neck or shoulder tension
  • Blue light
  • Allergies
  • Stress
  • Eyestrain
  • Fever
  • Flu
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Changes in the weather
  • Toxic chemicals
  • Too much sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Jaw problems
  • Anger/Strong emotions
  • Food sensitivities
  • Menstruation
  • Chronic or excessive use of medication
  • Tooth or gum infection

Top Tips for Headache Relief

Depending on the type of headache you have, you may be able to address the trigger or cause and thus eliminate the headache.

Tension Headaches

  • Drink plenty of water.
    Every organ, every cell in our bodies needs water to survive, much less thrive. Healthy adult bodies contain 55-60% water. How much should we drink? In general, an adult male needs about 3 liters (3.2 quarts) per day, while an adult female needs about 2.2 liters (2.3 quarts) per day.
  • Make sure you are getting enough uninterrupted sleep every night.
    A lack of REM sleep has been identified as instrumental in causing pain in the head and face. Stop using blue light-emitting electronics at least an hour before bedtime, and make sure you have a relaxing bedtime ritual.
  • If you are fasting or detoxing from caffeine, slow it down.
  • Do not make a radical change. The liver is your built-in detoxifying organ, but it can only handle so many toxins at a time.
  • Get a relaxing muscle massage to release muscle tension.
  • Ask your doctor for something to help with allergy symptoms or migraines.
  • Reduce computer, tv, and phone time and take frequent breaks.
  • Wear blue light glasses, or get a blue light blocking screen overlay when using electronics.
  • Practice proper posture to alleviate neck strain.
  • Practice relaxing exercises like tai chi or yoga.
  • Practice deep breathing or biofeedback techniques.

Be aware of what triggers your headache so you can stop it before it starts.

Migraine Headaches

  • See your doctor; ask about vitamins or medications that may help.
  • Avoid known triggers.
  • Rest in a dark, quiet environment.

What if your headache is a symptom of something more serious? How can you know when to seek medical assistance?

Accompanying Signs and Symptoms = Cause for Concern

  • Sudden, severe headache
  • When it affects your vision (flashing spots or blurry vision)
  • Head pain resulting from a fall or other injury
  • Symptoms lasting longer than three days
  • Dizziness
  • Fever above 102 to 104 degrees
  • Stiff neck
  • Loss of balance
  • Mental confusion
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Slurred or confused speech
  • Anxiety
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting

When to Seek Emergency Care

If you have reason to suspect any of the following conditions, seek medical help immediately.

  • Brain aneurysm, hemorrhage, or tumor
  • Cancer
  • Concussion
  • Heatstroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Meningococcal disease (infection of the lining of the bloodstream, spinal cord, or brain lining)
  • Preeclampsia (headaches beginning during the third trimester of pregnancy)
  • Severe dehydration
  • Stroke

Most headaches are nothing to worry about, but do not hesitate to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Time is often of the essence with many health conditions, especially if you have an underlying health condition or suspect a stroke.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.