Read below about headache, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your headache from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Headache Symptoms

You know the drill. Your forehead feels like it was hit with a hammer and your eyes are throbbing. The pain pulsates through your neck and leaves your shoulders feeling tight. You can't think. You can't focus. Dim the lights, shut off the television, and cancel your plans. You have a headache.

Headaches are, unfortunately, a normal part of life. Some people just deal with the pain while others wonder if there is a more serious cause behind their discomfort. Most of the time, a headache is simply a nuisance. But there are instances where a serious medical condition is the culprit behind the pain.

Common symptoms of headaches include:

Symptoms of more severe headaches or migraines include:

Headache Causes Overview

Some common headache causes include:

  • Norovirus: What did you have for lunch? We're only asking because norovirus is a form of food poisoning that can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. Headaches are also a common symptom, most likely being a side effect of dehydration.
  • Common Cold: Cough. Sneeze. Repeat. If you have a cold, headaches are a common symptom, thanks to the swelling in the sinus cavities.
  • Migraine: Nearly 12 percent of the American population deals with migraine headaches but despite this proportion, the cause is considered unknown. Some can feel a migraine attack coming on when exposed to certain foods or smells while others have no warning at all. The pain can last for hours or even days.
  • Influenza: We all try to escape flu season unscathed but for those of us who do end up down for the count, headaches are a common symptom. Fever is also common in those with a flu virus. As a result, blood vessels dilate and pressure inside the head increases.
  • Tension: Tension headaches are probably the most common type of headache. These are the ones that creep up in the middle of your work day and make each minute feel like an hour.

Suffering for a minute with a headache is a minute too long. Depending on the type of headache and how often it strikes, you need to fight back with a combination of preventative measures and pharmaceutical and natural treatments.

10 Potential Headache Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Normal Occurrence of Headache

    Headaches are extremely common & a primary reason people miss work or school. In many cases, the cause for headache is unknown.

    1 day

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, mild headache, muscle tension, new headache, severe headache
    Symptoms that always occur with normal occurrence of headache:
    headache
    Symptoms that never occur with normal occurrence of headache:
    headache resulting from a head injury, severe headache, vomiting, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, jaw pain, being severely ill, fever, drooping eyelid, wateriness in both eyes, unexplained limb pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Sinus Headache

    Sinus headaches are very common. When compared to a normal headache, this pain is generally around the eyes, sinuses, and upper cheeks.

    A few days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, headache that worsens when head moves, facial fullness or pressure, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, sinus pain
    Symptoms that always occur with sinus headache:
    headache
    Symptoms that never occur with sinus headache:
    fever, being severely ill, sore throat, muscle aches, cough, drooping eyelid, wateriness in both eyes, headache resulting from a head injury, severe headache, unexplained limb pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Acute Bacterial Sinusitis

    Acute bacterial sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become infected and, in turn, inflamed, which causes pain and other symptoms. The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the face that are generally clean and empty but when they're sick collect excess mucus and can become infected. When your symptoms are persisting for 10 days or more or are getting worse over time, it's more likely that you'll have a bacterial infection as compared to a viral infection.

    7-15 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, muscle aches
    Symptoms that always occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute bacterial sinusitis:
    clear runny nose, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Chronic Sinusitis

    Chronic sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses (hollow cavities behind the nose & cheeks) that lasts more than 12 weeks and can continue for months or years.

    Longer than 3 months.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, trouble sleeping, congestion, runny nose
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic sinusitis:
    chronic sinusitis symptoms
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Headache Checker

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  6. 6.Viral (Norovirus) Infection

    Noroviruses are a group of related viruses that leads to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. These viruses cause gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. When the diarrhea and/or vomiting is severe, dehydration can occur. Symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dizziness, urinating less frequently and dark urine.

    Usually resolves within 2-3 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
    Symptoms that always occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
    Symptoms that never occur with viral (norovirus) infection:
    severe abdominal pain, throbbing headache, severe headache, tarry stool, vaginal bleeding, alertness level change
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  7. 7.Generalized Anxiety Disorder (Gad)

    Anxiety is a common emotion from time to time; however, persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worrying are signs of generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person worries more days than not for at least six months and has symptoms like fatigue, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and irritability.

    With long-term care, symptoms can be controlled with talk therapy, medication, and self-care.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, trouble sleeping, general anxiety (stress), irritability, nausea
    Symptoms that always occur with generalized anxiety disorder (gad):
    general anxiety (stress)
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Recurrent Depression

    Depression, once diagnosed, can often recur with new episodes. Sometimes these episodes can be similar to ones in the past, sometimes the symptoms can be different. It's good to be aware off the fact that people who had a depression before, remain vulnerable.

    Depression's course is highly variable, and it may last weeks, months, or years.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, headache, stomach bloating
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Acute Viral Sinusitis

    Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus spaces behind the nose and cheeks. These spaces produce mucus, which drains into the nose. If the nose is swollen or if the mucus does not drain, this can block the sinuses and cause pain or infection.

    Symptoms should subside within 7-10 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  10. 10.Sex Headache

    A sex headache is a type of headache that results from exertion during sexual acts. It is a benign condition that resolves on its own.

    Within hours

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, headache with a pressing or tightening quality, dull or achy headache, headache near both temples
    Symptoms that always occur with sex headache:
    headache
    Symptoms that never occur with sex headache:
    vomiting, double vision, fever
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Headache Treatments and Relief

In most cases, the best way to treat a headache is to distract yourself from the discomfort or rest until you feel better.

If you are experiencing any of the following headache symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

  • You're having the worst headache you've ever had
  • You're experiencing vision loss that doesn't improve
  • You lose consciousness
  • You're vomiting uncontrollably
  • Your headache has lasted more than 72 hours with minimal relief
  • You have a headache with any symptoms of weakness in the arms, legs or trouble speaking – this could be a stroke

For run-of-the-mill headache symptoms, consider any of the following treatments.

  • Over-the-Counter Medication: A quick dose of acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen should provide you with quick relief.
  • Coffee: Pour yourself a hot cup of joe. If you regularly drink caffeine but skipped your morning beverage, a dose of caffeine should help.
  • Massage: We're giving you an excuse to book a spa treatment. If that's not an option, massaging your own neck, head, or shoulders can help alleviate pain from mild headaches.
  • Rest: If your headache is a result of an illness, like the flu or a cold, rest is some of the best medicine. Choose a comfortable location in a dark room with minimal noise.
  • Work Out: Though it might seem like exercise would make your headache worse, a quick bike ride, dip in the pool, or brisk walk through the neighborhood can help reduce your discomfort.
  • Essential Oils: Both lavender and peppermint have been used to naturally treat headaches. You can either massage the oils (after being mixed with a carrier oil) over your temples or diffuse them.
  • Water: If you have to think about the last time you had a glass of water, early dehydration could be the cause of your headache. Increase your water intake and you'll hopefully notice a decrease in pain rather quickly.

FAQs About Headache

Here are some frequently asked questions about headache.

Why do I have a constant headache?

Headaches can be caused by many different things, including chronic migraine headaches, chronic tension headaches, and a consistent headache called "hemicrania continua." Usually, these headaches occur frequently and last longer than four hours at a time. If you are having one of these headaches commonly, this is called a "Chronic Daily Headache." Most commonly, it is caused by a change in diet, sleep, or stress but can also me caused by head trauma, drugs, or dehydration.

What is cluster headache?

A cluster headache is a headache that normally affects one side of the face and is accompanied by severe pain around or above the eye, and at the temple (the upper frontal side of the head). It may also occur with droopy eyelids, crying, redness in the eye, and usually lasts 15 minutes to three hours. Attacks may occur as frequently as eight times a day for weeks.

What does a migraine feel like?

A migraine may feel different for different people, but it is most commonly described as a one-sided throbbing headache accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound as well as occasional nausea. It may also be accompanied by floating figures or "aura" within an individual's field of vision. Often, it is improved by rest in a quiet space and can be prevented by adequate hydration and adequate sleep without major changes in consistency.

What are the common causes of headaches?

Headaches are commonly caused by lack of sleep, dehydration, change in diet, and stress as well as more worrisome causes like head trauma. Tension headaches are the most common headaches and can be an early sign of a cold or can be caused by disrupted sleep or just psychological stress. To determine the cause of your headache, you should write down any accompanying symptoms including nasal congestion, tearing in the eye, redness in the eye, sore throat, neck or back pain, as well as the side of the head on which a headache occurs and the quality of the pain. The pain may be dull or sharp, pulsatile or constant, it may be caused by a particular motion or food item. All of these are important pieces of information to determine the cause of a headache.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Headache

  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Have you lost your appetite recently?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our headache symptom checker to find out more.

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Headache Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced headache have also experienced:

    • 12% Nausea
    • 5% Fatigue
    • 3% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
  • People who have experienced headache had symptoms persist for:

    • 53% Less Than a Day
    • 28% Less Than a Week
    • 7% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced headache were most often matched with:

    • 13% Common Cold
    • 11% Normal Occurrence of Headache
    • 5% Sinus Headache
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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