A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck. Serious causes of headaches are rare. Most people with headaches can feel much better by making lifestyle changes, learning ways to relax, and sometimes by taking medicines.
The most common type of headache is tension headache. It is likely caused by tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp, and jaw. A tension headache:
May be related to stress, depression, anxiety, a head injury, or holding your head and neck in an abnormal position.
Tends to be on both sides of your head. It often starts at the back of the head and spreads forward. The pain may feel dull or squeezing, like a tight band or vice. Your shoulders, neck, or jaw may feel tight or sore.
A migraine headache involves severe pain. It usually occurs with other symptoms, such as vision changes, sensitivity to sound or light, or nausea. With a migraine:
The pain may be throbbing, pounding, or pulsating. It tends to begin on one side of your head. It may spread to both sides.
The headache may be associated with an aura. This is a group of warning symptoms that start before your headache. The pain usually gets worse as you try to move around.
Migraines may be triggered by foods, such as chocolate, certain cheeses, or monosodium glutamate (MSG). Caffeine withdrawal, lack of sleep, and alcohol may also be triggers.
Rebound headaches are headaches that keep coming back. They often occur from overuse of pain medicines. For this reason, these headaches are also called medicine overuse headaches. People who take pain medicine more than 3 days a week on a regular basis can develop this type of headache.
Other types of headaches:
Cluster headache is a sharp, very painful headache that occurs up to several times a day for months. It then goes away for a similar period of time. The headache usually lasts less than an hour. It tends to occur at the same times every day.
Sinus headache causes pain in the front of the head and face. It is due to swelling in the sinus passages behind the cheeks, nose, and eyes. The pain is worse when you bend forward and when you first wake up in the morning.
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Division of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.