The 18 Most Common Sources of Headaches
and What You Need to Know and Do
© 2019 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
About 4 percent to 5 percent of U.S. adults suffer from chronic headaches, which may occur nearly every day, according to the Mayo Clinic. While an occasional headache is something that most people experience, frequent headaches can be a warning sign that something is amiss in your body.
If you get frequent headaches, it's likely to be a tension-type headache. They account for 75-90 percent of frequent headaches.
The cause of the most commonly reported headache, tension headaches, is actually still unknown. An estimated 75 percent to 90 percent of people who complain of frequent headaches are suffering from tension headaches.
Some experts believe they stem from contracted muscles, while others believe they're related to changes in your brain chemicals, such as serotonin, endorphins and others, which help your nerves communicate.
The good news is that these headaches are rarely the sign of something serious (see the end of the article for some rare, but serious, causes). Instead, tension-type headaches are related to lifestyle factors that you can influence.
The most common triggers of tension headaches include:
Not enough sleep
Certain foods and food additives, such as chocolate, cheese, caffeine and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Grinding your teeth
Depression and anxiety
Lack of exercise
Holding your head or neck in an awkward position for a long time
Hormonal changes related to menstruation (PMS), menopause, pregnancy or hormone use
Medications, including those for depression and high blood pressure, or overusing headache medication
Sleeping in an awkward position
Sinus infections, colds or flu
What do Tension Headaches Feel Like?
Typically, tension headaches cause an aching or squeezing sensation on both sides of your head, forehead, temples or back of head. The pain is often described as a tight band around your head, or a feeling that your head is "in a vise." The pain may be mild to moderately intense.
Tension headaches may also include:
Neck and jaw discomfort
Tenderness on your scalp, neck and shoulder muscles
Irritability and trouble concentrating
Loss of appetite
If you experience visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or weakness, you are likely having a migraine headache rather than a tension headache, as these symptoms are rare with tension headaches. Most people who get migraine headaches also experience tension-type headaches, but not necessarily vice versa.
Just anticipating a stressful event can bring on a tension headache if you're prone to them.
Tension headaches can come on at any time, but may be more common when you're anticipating a stressful event, such as a confrontation at work or at home. They can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a full week.
How to Prevent, and Care For, Tension Headaches
Lifestyle changes will go far in keeping tension headaches at bay. The top tips for headache relief include:
Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Get enough quality sleep each night. If you have difficulty sleeping, try nutritional and supplements for support to gain restful sleep by calming brain activity through nutritional support specifically to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Exercise -- it's known to reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches, according to the Mayo Clinic. Exercise may even help to relieve the pain of a tension headache in progress.
Improve your posture. This will help to keep strain on your muscles, tendons and bones to a minimum.
Keep your stress well-managed. We all have stress; it's the way you deal with it that makes all the difference. Schedule regular times to de-stress during your day by the use and calming effects of prayer, meditating, soaking in a bubble bath, reading or taking a long walk.
Learn the fine art of stretching! Regular stretching is well known to help relieve pain, including headache pain. To learn how to do the right type of stretching -- the kind that actually feel good while you do them (and after!) -- we highly recommend looking for good trainer and or instructional DVDs on stretching.
Get regular massages. Massages can help to relieve headache pain, and they also loosen up tight muscles in your neck and shoulders, which may also be contributing to your headache.
Pay attention to "triggers." If you experience frequent headaches, experts recommend keeping a "headache diary." In it, record what took place before your headache began. Did you have a double espresso? It may be the caffeine. Did you walk by a perfume counter? You may be sensitive to fragrances. If this is the case, this may be the time to think about doing a several day detox.
When Can Headaches be Serious?
The majority of headaches do not signal an underlying illness, but in rare cases headaches can be related to serious conditions including brain aneurysm, brain tumor, stroke, or a brain infection like meningitis or encephalitis.
You should see a health care provider right away if you:
Experience a severe headache that comes on suddenly
Have fever, a stiff neck, mental confusion, numbness, weakness or double vision along with your headache
Are over the age of 50 and start to experience headache pain you've never felt before
Get headaches from coughing, moving quickly or straining
Have a headache after a head injury
MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia