What Causes your Head to Hurt?

Updated at: Mar 14, 2016
What Causes your Head to Hurt?

Tension, migraine and cluster headache are the three different types of headache.

Dr Poonam Sachdev
PainWritten by: Dr Poonam SachdevPublished at: Nov 06, 2012

Pain in head

Headache can be defined as pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck. Almost nine out of ten people suffer from headaches at some point in their lives. Some people may suffer from occasional headaches, whereas others may have frequent headaches which can be severe enough to make them feel miserable. However, in most people headaches aren't serious, even though they may affect your ability to function well. Read to know what causes your head to hurt.


The three most common types of headache are:

  • Tension headache.
  • Migraine headaches.
  • Cluster headaches.


Tension Headaches


This is the commonest type of headache which causes your head to hurt. It is most likely caused due to stress, depression, or anxiety.

Other factors which can precipitate tension headache:

  • Overworking.
  • Not sleeping enough.
  • Missing meals.
  • Using alcohol or street drugs.
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth.
  • Overexerting  one ’s self.
  • Holding your head in one position for a long time, such as looking at a computer, studying something under the microscope, or working on a typewriter.
  • Poor sleep position.


Some trigger factors for headaches are:

  • Cheese.
  • Chocolate.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG).
  • If you have coffee (caffeine) regularly your body gets used to it. Therefore, your head may start to hurt if you don't get your usual daily dose.


In tension headaches, usually both sides of your head hurt. The headache typically starts at the back of the head and spreads forward. The pain is usually persistent (dull or squeezing like a tight band or vice) which does not worsen with activity.


Migraine Headaches


Migraine is the second most common type of headache. It can cause significant pain which can last for hours or even days. The pain is throbbing, pounding, or pulsating in quality and usually starts on one side of your head, although it may spread to both sides. The pain can be associated symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and vision disturbance, all of which can be very disabling. A person with migraine during headache may feel like finding a dark, quiet place to lie down. Some people with migraine have auras such as changes in vision, such as seeing flashes of light and feeling pins and needles in an arm or leg during or before an attack. However, the common migraine or migraine without auras is more common than migraines with aura.

Cluster Headaches


This is a less common but more severe type of headache. It tends to occur in “clusters,” that is often at the same time of day, several times per day, for several weeks. The headache may start suddenly as a sharp or burning pain centred around one eye and can last up to 3 hours.


[Read: What are the Symptoms of Cluster Headache?]

Some other types of headaches include:

  • Sinus headaches cause the front of your head and face to hurt. These are caused due to inflammation in the sinus passages behind the cheeks, nose, and eyes. The pain is usually worse in the mornings and when you bend forward. You may have postnasal drip, sore throat, and nasal discharge as well.
  • Some people can have headaches when they have cold, flu, fever, or as part of premenstrual syndrome.


Some rare causes of headache are:

  • Brain aneurysm (the wall of a blood vessel in the brain is weakened  which can cause it to break open and bleed into the brain).
  • Brain infection such as meningitis or encephalitis.
  • Brain tumour.
  • Stroke or TIA.


Most people with headache feel better after rest, relaxation and taking a pain killer medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. If you have severe pain or have to take pain killer medications frequently consult a doctor for diagnosis and proper treatment.


Read more articles on Understand Pain




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