Man with HeadacheWhen you complain of having a headache, people around you will readily offer suggestions about the cause. They may imply that you are thinking too hard, that you are trying to avoid intercourse, or―copying a funny line from a popular movie―that it is a tumor.

The pain of a headache is no laughing matter and it can sometimes even be indicative of a more serious problem. Therefore, you may find it helpful to know what your type of headache can tell you about your health.

What causes headaches?

There are several different kinds of headaches, and each one marked by that all-too-familiar throbbing pain. Sometimes the cause is straightforward and easy to fix, but other times it may take a closer look to figure out what is triggering your headaches. In fact, there are more than 100 distinctive types of headaches.

Allergic reactions may sometimes set off headaches and it is also possible for some types of headaches to run in families. You could get a headache during an illness like the flu or when you have a cold. Those who engage in contact sports or other strenuous activities can get headaches from injuries or concussions. Hormonal disparity, during events such as menopause or menstruation, might also generate headaches.

One of the most common reasons for headaches is anxiety or tension and these are classified as primary headaches. The starting point for these kinds of headaches is typically the blood vessels, nerves, or muscles in or near your head.

Migraines and other persistent headaches fall into this category. Occasionally, some people may suffer from regular headaches that occur every month or for days at a time.

When you have a hangover from drinking too much alcohol or low glucose levels from not eating enough, these things can activate that chemical imbalance and create a headache. Other types of behaviors that can stimulate a primary headache include diet, insomnia, and exercise.

Another category of headaches are called secondary and they are evidence of other existing factors that could be dangerous and even life-threatening. Some of these are very minor, such as the kind of headache you get when eating ice cream, but they can also be quite perilous, like those that precede a stroke.

Secondary headaches encompass a sizeable group of potential problems that may first manifest themselves as a strong headache. Issues such as sinus blockages, meningitis, an enlarged artery in the brain, hypertension, infections, glaucoma, and yes, tumors, may initially be noticed because of a simple headache.

Since the pain from headaches occurs in your head, it is a popular misconception that your brain is hurting. Instead, it is actually the result of the chemical reaction in the areas around your head, which causes your brain to send signals to the rest of your body that there is pain.

How are headaches treated?

Headaches can happen to almost anyone, from young children to senior citizens. If you have never experienced one, you are indeed lucky and perhaps even unique.

Most of the time a headache will go away on its own or with the help of an over-the-counter medication. Finding ways to relax and reduce stress can also help. Only rarely does a headache require a doctor visit or hospital stay.

However, if you have a headache that does not respond to traditional treatment methods, lasts for several days, or is terrible enough to affect your normal lifestyle, this could signal that a trip to your physician’s office may be necessary. Also, you should be aware of serious warning signs, such as a resulting fever, confusion, or changes in your eyesight.

Your doctor can determine whether the cause is something simple or if further examinations and medicines are needed. He or she might also recommend that you see someone who specializes in headache treatment, such as a neurologist.

What could your headache be trying to tell you?

When you are suffering from a headache, it can often feel as if your whole body is affected. The pain may radiate down your neck and all the way to your shoulders and back.

If your headache comes along with nasal stuffiness or fever, it could be the result of a sinus infection. A dull pain that makes your whole body hurt might be caused by medication overuse.

It is important to be aware of any potential patterns to your headaches, by keeping a journal or marking events on a calendar, as this will assist your doctor in reaching an accurate diagnosis. You should maintain a record of how often your headaches strike, the time of day they begin, and where you believe the pain to be located, such as in just one eye or only the left side.

It could also be helpful to try and describe what the pain actually feels like, whether it is sharp and piercing or forceful and heavy.

This is the best way to figure out what your headaches may be trying to tell you and how they may be affecting your health. Paying attention to your body, lifestyle, and how you feel each day is a big part of staying healthy. Once you know the cause of your headache, you will be better able to manage the pain and other symptoms.