What’s Causing This Pain in My Head?

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As millions of Americans know, headaches are painfully common. In fact, nearly half of all adults suffer from headaches. Even though they’re seldom cause for concern, they can make your life miserable for as long as they last.

Common Headache Types

Simply speaking, a headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp or neck. Headaches can vary a lot in how frequently they occur or how much they hurt.

Triggers can be tricky. What causes pain for one person can soothe another’s aching head.

The best way to figure out what type of headache a person is suffering from is to look at its characteristics: how it feels, its intensity and where it is located are all things that can help define the headache. For instance, tension headaches tend to be global — or felt all over the head — whereas a migraine is confined to one area.

Typical headache types include:

  • Tension
    The most common, a tension headache can be triggered by stress and muscle tension. It starts slowly, and your head usually hurts on both sides. The pain is dull, and may feel like a vise around your head.
  • Migraine
    Migraines are different because they often involve multiple symptoms. In addition to throbbing pain, you may experience nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness and sensitivity to light (photophobia). Fluctuating hormones can lead to a migraine attack. In fact, about three quarters of all women with migraine report that their attacks are related to their menstrual cycle.
  • Cluster
    Called cluster headaches because the attacks occur in groups, they may recur over several weeks or months and return every year or two. Common symptoms include severe pain on one side of the head, usually behind one eye. Your eye may be red and watery, and you may have a runny nose.
  • Sinus
    Sinus headache causes pain in the front of the head and face, 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.

Why Does My Head Hurt So Much?What’s Causing This Pain in My Head? - In Content

Headaches are extremely common and can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as emotional stress, physical exertion, weather changes, bright or flickering lights, motion, poor sleep, and even food and beverages like chocolate, wine or coffee.

Triggers can be tricky. What causes pain for one person can soothe another’s aching head. Keeping a diary to track your headaches can help you identify your sensitivities. Common culprits include:

  • Dehydration
    Never underestimate the power of water. Not getting enough fluids is one of the most common causes of headaches.
  • Stress
    Everyday stress — a demanding boss, family responsibilities and flaring emotions — can make your head hurt.
  • Lack of Sleep
    Not getting enough zzz’s at night can start your day with a headache.
  • Caffeine
    Go easy on the coffee, tea and cola drinks, which can pack a significant caffeine punch, and trigger a headache.
  • Sugar
    Consider skipping the candy bar – high blood sugar levels can make you more susceptible to headaches.
  • Foods and Beverages
    Watch out for chocolate, wine and pickled foods. And ripened cheeses like brie can also jumpstart a headache.
  • Environment
    Sinus headaches can be triggered by allergies. Even a change in the weather pattern can bring on a headache.
  • Genetics
    Studies show that because of our genetic makeup, migraines are more common in women than men.
  • Jaw Problems
    If you have myofascial pain dysfunction, or MPD (formerly called TMJ), it can trigger a dull, aching pain in your jaw.
  • Musculoskeletal Issues
    When your neck and shoulder muscles are weak, your head can pull too far forward, triggering a headache.
  • Illness or Allergies
    A cold, allergy symptoms, the flu or a fever may also be accompanied by a headache.

Learn more about headache types and how to treat them.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.