Mild Headache Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your mild headache symptoms, including 7 causes & common questions.

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  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 7 Possible Mild Headache Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. Real-Life Stories
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. Related Articles
  9. References

Mild Headache Symptoms

A headache is defined as pain in any region of the head and can take on multiple qualities described below.

Common characteristics of mild headache

If you're experiencing a mild headache, it can likely be described by:

  • Mild to severe in nature
  • Sharp or dull
  • Throbbing or squeezing
  • Localized or spread out
  • Sudden or gradual
  • Unilateral (one side of the head) or bilateral (both sides of the head)
  • Brief or persistent

Most likely characteristics of mild headache

Within this spectrum of symptoms, mild headaches often occupy the lesser end of the scale. For example, mild headaches are often:

  • Dull
  • Gradual
  • Brief, lasting minutes to hours

Mild headaches may be the most benign on the spectrum of headache pain; however, that doesn't mean they should be ignored. It is important to take note of the type and quality of your headache symptoms in order to get proper care. If you experience mild headache symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor in order to discuss treatment options.

Mild Headache Causes

Headaches happen when there is increased activity or dysregulation of pain-sensitive structures in the head. Headaches can be divided into two categories: primary and secondary. It is important to make this distinction because primary and secondary headaches have different causes; however, the two can still be linked [1,2]. Getting the right diagnosis from your doctor is key in getting the proper treatment and care.

Primary headache

A primary headache is a headache that is due to the headache condition itself and not due to another cause or underlying condition. Many times, these types of headaches are related to certain triggers [3].

  • Stress: Things in your life that are causing stress or lack of sleep can easily trigger mild headache symptoms.
  • Diet: Beverages such as caffeine and alcohol can trigger primary headaches. Moreover, dietary insufficiencies such as skipped meals or dehydration can also result in mild primary headache symptoms.

Secondary headache

A secondary headache is a headache that is present because of another condition or underlying disease. Many conditions can cause mild headache symptoms [4].

  • Inflammatory: Infections and inflammation of any of the structures in the head (sinuses, ear, nose, etc.) can result in secondary mild headaches. These headaches are often mild because they resolve once the underlying infection or inflammatory condition is treated.
  • Post-traumatic: Falls, injury and other traumatic events that can result in concussions can also result in mild post-traumatic headaches. These headaches, sometimes called post-concussion syndrome, can last for weeks to months after the initial injury. These headaches may be associated with dizziness, loss of concentration or memory and irritability.
  • Medication-Induced: If you already have headaches and take headache medication too often, your pain can recur more often. When headache drugs backfire, the medical term is "rebound" or "medication-overuse" headache.

7 Possible Mild Headache Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced mild headache. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Tension headache (previously undiagnosed)

Tension headache is described as feeling like there is a band around the head that gets tighter and tighter. The headaches may occur in episodes – a few times a week – or chronically, where they almost never entirely go away.

This is a common type of headache but the cause remains unclear. It may be a combination of stress and an overactive sensitivity to pain.

Symptoms include dull, aching pain and tightness in the forehead, sides, and back of the head, and sometimes pain in the neck and shoulder muscles. Unlike migraines, there is usually no nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light.

Tension headaches are not dangerous in themselves, but can interfere with work and with quality of life.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and sometimes physical examination. CT scan or MRI may be done to rule out a more serious cause of the headaches.

Over-the-counter and other pain relievers are sometimes prescribed. Lifestyle changes to reduce stress, improve diet, and increase exercise are often helpful, as is massage and biofeedback.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: history of headaches, nausea or vomiting, moderate headache, loss of appetite, mild headache

Symptoms that always occur with tension headache (previously undiagnosed): history of headaches

Symptoms that never occur with tension headache (previously undiagnosed): change in urine color, photo and phonophobia, throbbing headache, headache resulting from a head injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

Temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder

Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction is often caused by a variety of factors, including daily habits, your teeth alignment, and even stress. It usually affects one side of the jaw, but in some people it can affect both sides. People with TMJ dysfunction will typically experience pain on one side of the face that is worse with chewing, yawning, or other movements of the jaw. With some simple changes in your daily habits and other at-home treatments, most people with TMJ dysfunction will experience relief of their symptoms within weeks.

Treatment for temporomandibular joint dysfunction usually includes avoiding eating hard foods or foods that require a lot of chewing. Good posture and relaxation techniques may help relieve tension in the muscles that connect to your temporomandibular joint. In people who clench or grind their teeth, a mouth guard worn at night (and fitted by your dentist) may also help relieve your symptoms. Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw, history of headaches, jaw pain, pain in the back of the neck

Symptoms that always occur with temporomandibular joint (tmj) dysfunction disorder: pain, restricted movement, and clicking sounds from jaw

Urgency: Primary care doctor


Influenza, or "flu," is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. It is spread through the air by coughing, sneezing, or even talking.

Anyone can get the flu, but those who are very young, over 65, and/or have pre-existing medical conditions are most at risk for complications.

Symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, and extreme fatigue. The symptoms may appear very suddenly.

Flu can bring on secondary bacterial infections in the lungs or ears. Dehydration is a great concern because the patient rarely wants to eat or drink.

Diagnosis is usually made by symptoms. There are tests that use a swab taken from the nose or throat, but they are not always accurate or necessary.

Treatment consists mainly of good supportive care, which means providing the patient with rest, fluids, and pain-relieving medication such as ibuprofen. Do not give aspirin to children.

Antibiotics cannot help with the flu, since antibiotics only work against bacteria. There are anti-viral medications that a doctor may prescribe.

The best prevention is an annual flu shot.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, cough, muscle aches

Symptoms that never occur with influenza: headache resulting from a head injury

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Mild Headache Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your mild headache

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Exertion headache

An exertion or activity-related headache occurs as a result of strenuous activity. This type of headache is often triggered by exercise.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: headache, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, headache with a pressing or tightening quality, headache near both temples

Symptoms that always occur with exertion headache: headache

Symptoms that never occur with exertion headache: vomiting, double vision, fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Concussion not needing imaging

A traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion, happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain. Every year, millions of people in the U.S. suffer brain injuries. More than half are bad enough that people must go to the hospital, and the worst injuries can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping

Symptoms that always occur with concussion not needing imaging: head or face injury

Symptoms that never occur with concussion not needing imaging: recent fall from 6 feet or higher, severe vomiting, posttraumatic amnesia over 30 minutes, slurred speech, fainting, moderate vomiting

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Mild Headache Treatments and Relief

At-home treatment

Since mild primary headaches are often trigger-related, try these at-home remedies and lifestyle changes to combat your mild headache symptoms:

  • Decrease stress: Reducing stress is much easier said than done, but taking up activities such as yoga or meditation can give you a healthier foundation to deal with life's stressors.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet: Trading in beverages such as caffeine or alcohol for water can go a long way in helping to reduce mild primary headaches.
  • Get adequate sleep: A good night's rest is the brain's way of recovering each day in order to work well the next. Your brain can manifest its exhaustion and lack of recovery in the form of mild headaches.

When to see a doctor

However, if mild headache symptoms begin to disrupt your life, or you find that you need to take medication for your headaches more than twice a week, see your doctor [5]. This might be a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires professional attention.

  • Alter medication use: In the case of medication-induced headaches, work with your doctor to find the right treatment. Your doctor may change your medication or reduce the current medications you take.
  • Anti-inflammatory: If your headaches are the result of inflammatory conditions, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications to combat your mild headache symptoms.

When it is an emergency

If you experience the following in addition to your headache, your headache is not considered "mild" and you must get medical attention immediately. These symptoms could be signs of serious conditions such as stroke or meningitis.

Real-life Stories

Once your story is reviewed and approved by our editors, it will live on Buoy as a helpful resource for anyone who may be dealing with something similar. If you want to learn more, try Buoy Assistant.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Mild Headache

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

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

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Mild Headache Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your mild headache

Mild Headache Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced mild headache have also experienced:

  • 7% Nausea
  • 6% Fatigue
  • 2% Bloody Vaginal Discharge

People who have experienced mild headache were most often matched with:

  • 50% Temporomandibular Joint (Tmj) Dysfunction Disorder
  • 33% Influenza
  • 16% Tension Headache (Previously Undiagnosed)

People who have experienced mild headache had symptoms persist for:

  • 53% Less than a day
  • 28% Less than a week
  • 7% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Mild Headache Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your mild headache


  1. Schankin CJ, Straube A. Secondary headaches: secondary or still primary?. J Headache Pain. 2012;13(4):263-70. NCBI Link
  2. Green MW. Secondary headaches. Continuum (Minneap Minn). 2012;18(4):783-95. PubMed Link
  3. Pellegrino ABW, Davis-martin RE, Houle TT, Turner DP, Smitherman TA. Perceived triggers of primary headache disorders: A meta-analysis. Cephalalgia. 2018;38(6):1188-1198. PubMed Link
  4. Secondary Headaches. American Migraine Foundation. American Migraine Foundation Link
  5. Headaches – danger signs. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated Jan. 7, 2019. MedlinePlus Link

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