This article is written for the public by a lecturer in a Major University who has more than 20 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in Europe, Canada and the US.

Next to the common cold, headache is the most common complaint. Many individuals continue to work with a headache. For others, the headache is disabling and will require a day of rest. For some, these interventions will not be sufficient, they will require a visit to the doctor and some medication may be prescribed. This article looks at the major causes of headaches and also the most effective interventions.

Definition: A headache is defined as a pain in the head. A pain is any discomfort which the patient says it is.

Severity: On a scale of one to ten, which is often used as a measure of pain in the hospital setting, headache severity can be anywhere from one to ten. Level One is often considered to be the least painful, more of an inconvenience. Any headache which is above six is considered to be disabling and severe.

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Common Causes:

•  The most common cause of headache is eyestrain. If you have difficulty reading you may have a refraction disorder. This eye disorder is easily corrected with lenses. To learn more about refraction disorders please see: this article.

•  The next most common cause of headache is infection in sinus cavities . This type of infection is common when individuals have bad hygiene and /or are exposed to droplet infection from other people. Sinuses are cavities in the bones of the skull. These infections are often difficult to treat because the antibiotics do not reach the interior of the cavities. The nutrition, warmth, and moisture is present and allows the bacteria to grow and multiply. The infections can be viral, bacterial or fungal.

  1. Dehydration is another cause of headache. If you have been drinking excessively the night before, it is likely that your headache is due to dehydration. It is a good idea to drink a lot of water after a bought of drinking alcohol which should never have happened in the first place. In the name of relaxation and entertainment we do tend to abuse our bodies.
  2. Head injuries are a common cause of headaches. Blows to the head, whip lash injuries, and concussion of the head often cause headaches. If a motor vehicle accident has happened, it is important the insurer be notified as soon as the patient has been taken care of. In some instances, if the insurer is not notified in a timely manner, the insurer may be in a position to refuse coverage. Usually, in these cases, the treatment team will do all the necessary tests to rule out bony injury and visible blood vessel problems. Head injuries are often referred as trauma to the head.
  3. Tension headaches are due to muscle contractions, sometimes called muscle spasms. Blood vessels and membranous coverings of the brain contain pain sensitive structures which become irritated during stress and associated events. Tension in the muscles of the scalp, face and neck are the common causes of headaches.
  4. Dilation of the blood vessels in the head can cause a severe headache. When a patient has been given a coronary artery dilator, it is common for them to experiences a severe headache.
  5. Brain swellings which stretch the brain's coverings (known as the meningitis) will also cause severe headaches. Infection of the meninges can be life threatening therefore immediate medical opinion and treatment should be sought.
  6. Trauma to specific nerves of the face and head may also cause characteristic headaches. In these cases it is important that immediate assistance be sought.
  7. Stress related headaches are due to muscle spasms as stated above – muscles go into spasm and trigger the pain sensitive structures in the head.
  8. Migraine and cluster headaches are due to blood vessel dilation (swelling) Headaches may also result from contraction of the muscles of the scalp, face or neck. The exact physiology is not well understood. Some authorities state that blood vessels are very sensitive and respond to changes in atmospheric pressure changes.
  9. High Blood Pressure is a common cause of headaches.
  10. Cancers, tumors, blood disorders also cause headaches. High blood urea, septicaemia, high blood urea and nitrogen are also known causes of headaches.
  11. High blood lipids and cholesterol cause headaches.
  12. For some patients the headaches may be due to idiopathic causes ; These are causes which are not clearly understood. For these patients it is often useful to keep a food and events diary. The following types of headaches may be diagnosed using this method: stress headache, menstrual headache, food triggered headache and medication triggered headache.
  13. Alcohol withdrawal headache. If you drink regularly and are deciding to stop, you are likely to get a headache. This is called withdrawal headache. Individuals who drink a lot of tea and/or coffee will also suffer from withdrawal headaches.
  14. Medication withdrawal headaches – If you have been on a medication for a long time and you stop it then you are likely to get a headache. When stopping or changing any medication which you have been taking for a long time, it is a good idea to consult your physician.