6 Common Causes Behind Your Frequent Headaches

Have you been getting headaches that last more than a day? 

Were you unsure of what to do when the pain just did not go away?

Did you sleep them off or couldn’t even sleep because the pain was too severe?

With over 300 types of headaches and known causes for only 10% of them, it can be hard to distinguish one from the other, let alone know what is causing them.

Classified as primary headaches and secondary headaches, the former usually occur due to overactivity in the nerves in the skull, issues in the neck and jaw muscles or increased chemical activity in the brain. The latter, however, are caused by an underlying medical problem.

“A headache could be ‘triggered’ by many lifestyle and environmental factors such as skipping meals, regularly drinking caffeine and then abruptly stopping it, irregular sleeping patterns and even strong odours and changing weather,” explains Dr. Upali Nanda, Consultant, Internal Medicine at Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research.

To be able to treat your headaches, you should know what is causing them or what kinds of headaches these may be. 

Causes of Headaches 

  1. Migraine

    This can last for a few hours to a few days and can be debilitating at times. In a migraine, people will experience throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. Accompanying symptoms may include:
    -nausea
    -pain around the eyes
    -sensitivity to light and sound

    Some people experience an aura, meaning they see shapes or flashes of light that warn them about the onset of a migraine.

    According to the Migraine Research Foundation, everyone either knows someone who suffers from migraine or suffers from migraine themselves.

    Migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world, affecting 1 billion people, most of which are women.

    “It is a neurological condition in which 90% people find it immensely difficult to work or concentrate on chores.”

    People with a family history of migraines and those between ages 18-44 are more at risk of suffering from the condition.

    If your pain sounds like a migraine, you should keep a record of the attacks and what medication or remedies you took to heal the pain.

    Treating Migraines

    Migraines are diagnosed clinically, on the basis of your symptoms and family history. You may be advised to take tests to rule out other causes.

    Treatment is available to stop the pain during an attack and to prevent the attacks from occurring. Your doctor may advise treatment depending upon the frequency and severity of your headaches.

    Drugs such as Triptans are recommended during an attack to relieve pain. This drug increases serotonin or the happy chemical, reduces any inflammation and narrows blood vessels (which otherwise may widen in a migraine) and stops the pain.

    Preventive treatment includes beta blockers that are taken daily. These help in reducing the blood flow by impacting the blood vessels and also change the electrical activity in the brain.

    Sometimes antidepressants may be suggested to reduce the frequency and severity of the attacks.

    “These medications should not be taken without your doctor’s advice,” affirms Dr. Upali, “and shouldn’t be stopped without their approval either.”

    Be careful of consuming excessive over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol as these could cause “rebound” headaches too.

  2. Rebound headaches

    or medication overuse headaches tend to occur during the gap between one episode and another, if you frequently take medication to get rid of a headache.

    These are usually diagnosed if you have been experiencing headaches every month for three months while taking pain killers.

    Treatment for a rebound headache involves stopping the use of painkillers. This may make your headache worse but can be managed with medication that prevents headaches and through biofeedback therapy.

  3. Mood changes

    Panic attacks, anxiety disorders and increased periods of stress can all cause headaches. These can be tension headaches where the pain begins at the back of the head and travels upward, caused by the tightening of the head and neck muscles; or they can be migraines.

    These can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol. Long term solutions include medication along with meditation, exercise and good sleep to reduce stress and mood swings.

  4. Neck problems

    may also cause headaches called Cervicogenic headaches. Problems in the neck may arise due to arthritis, fracture, infection,  bruises or even an improper sleeping position. To treat these headaches, you’d need to address your neck issues.

  5. Cluster headaches

    occur in clusters, ranging from once to eight times a day over a one to three month duration, at the same time every year or two.

    These headaches are very painful, occur on one side and may include symptoms such as a blocked or runny nose, droopy eyelid and a watery, red eye on the affected side. The headache starts suddenly and could go on for half an hour to an hour.

  6. The New Daily Persistent Headache

    feels like a mild or moderate pressing or tightening sensation on both sides of the head and occurs everyday. People can usually pinpoint the day it started because they never had a headache before.

    If your headache doesn’t fit into any of these types, you can relieve pain with painkillers or try to turn off the lights and sleep. You should consider lifestyle changes to reduce the frequency of your headaches.

Preventing persistent headaches

If your headaches are not severe, making lifestyle changes such as eating meals on time, sleeping well and avoiding triggers may be all that is needed to manage them.

You should also work on reducing your stress levels as these can cause headaches. The fact that you’re unable to work because of the headache can in turn cause further stress. Try getting some fresh air, speaking to a friend, listening to relaxing music or even exercising or stretching for a minute to de-stress. 

Many times our headaches may be caused by dehydration. If you need to be reminded to drink water, you could even download an app that alerts you at regular intervals!

If you feel anxious often, consider counseling to understand how to better deal with your concerns.

When to see a doctor

You should speak to a physician if your headache

  • doesn’t respond to any painkillers
  • lasts longer than usual 
  • Incapacitates you in any way

“If you’ve been maintaining a record of your headaches that details when they started, the origin of the pain, the duration and how you treated them, make sure to carry it with you. Referring to it will help you remember facts that you may have forgotten and give us insights that otherwise may not be available,” advises Dr. Upali.

You should rush to the emergency in case you experience the worst headache ever that is accompanied by difficulty seeing, speaking or walking, high fever or vomiting.

Smriti’s Story

Smriti Arora, 34, had been getting headaches since her college days. She’d usually take a Crocin back then so that she didn’t have to miss her dance rehearsals for upcoming competitions. 

When she started working, however, she had little time to dance or even exercise. Gradually with time, when her headaches returned, she realized they were worse than they were years ago.  

One particular day, while at work, her head began throbbing. She took a Crocin and put her head down for a few minutes but got no relief. She took the rest of the day off, went home and slept. 

“My headache continued the next morning. I just didn’t know what to do,” recalls Smriti.

“I discussed it with my family and decided to visit my physician.”

“It was evident that Smriti was in a lot of pain when she came to the hospital. We asked her a few questions and when she couldn’t answer, her family provided the details,” says Dr Upali.

“We prescribed a stronger drug based on her symptoms and advised rest. She was clearly stressed out because she was missing work.”

When Smriti felt better, she was called in to discuss her treatment plan. She was told to take the stronger drug as soon as she feels the onset of the headache. 

“The doctor highlighted that I needed to exercise and that the medication alone wasn’t enough,” says Smriti.

“I began to consciously take out time three days a week and enrolled in Zumba classes.”

“Within two months, I felt energetic and happier. I also felt like the intensity of my headaches had reduced.”

“Based on my own experience, I can safely say that if your doctor recommends lifestyle changes as part of your treatment plan, take it seriously. Your sleeping, eating, drinking and exercise routines along with medication has a healing power like no other.”

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