Most headaches occur because something is wrong with the nerves, blood vessels and/or muscles in your head and neck. When the muscles or blood vessels (or both) undergo stress, irritation or change, the surrounding nerves may be activated, sending pain signals to the brain, which then sets off a headache. Keeping a headache diary is very helpful in identifying the potential factors that may be causing your headaches.
Triggers of headaches include:
- Illness. An infection, cold or fever can bring on a sudden headache
- Head trauma or stroke
- Genetics. Headaches may run in the family
- Environmental factors such as the weather, noise, strong odours, strong lighting and cigarette smoke
- Emotional or physical stress in tension headaches
- Certain foods and drinks. Examples include caffeine, alcohol, MSG, nitrites, aspartame and chocolate
According to the Department of Neurology at the National Neuroscience Institute, it is important to exclude sinister causes of headache, including brain tumours, brain infection or vascular malformations, when headaches are persistent, or have a different character from previous headaches. If sinister causes are excluded, persistent headaches are often related to poor lifestyle. Measures to reduce stress, having physical exercise and establishing a regular sleep cycle are often helpful in such cases.
Types of Headaches
Headache can be broadly divided into two groups: primary and secondary.
Migraines, cluster headaches and tension-type headaches are primary headaches, while secondary headaches are due to an underlying problem in the head or neck, including bleeding in the brain, infections, tumour, or meningitis and encephalitis.
It is important for your doctor to determine the type of headache you have, so that he/she will be able to decide on the most suitable treatment. Treating secondary headaches involves resolving the root of the pain, but primary headaches will have to be treated differently.