Home A to Z Test What Conditions Can Lead to a Severe Headache?

What Conditions Can Lead to a Severe Headache?

Verified By Apollo General Physician December 9, 2020 8324 0
What Conditions Can Lead to a Severe Headache
What Conditions Can Lead to a Severe Headache

Headaches are a common health problem you might experience quite often. While you overlook it at times, if it turns severe, it might affect your day-to-day working. If you have been experiencing throbbing pain for the past few days, do not ignore it.

Your doctor can determine the underlying cause(s) and the right treatment depending on the symptoms of your headache. Although most headaches do not necessarily mean that you have any severe health complications, some might be due to a serious and even life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Lifestyle factors such as inadequate sleeping or eating patterns, consumption of alcohol and feeling stressful can lead to severe pain in your head.

While most of the headaches are not life threatening, some headaches can be triggered by an underlying disease such as sinus, concussion, brain tumor, stroke etc.

Every headache is different, so you might observe different symptoms for different headaches and require specific treatment.

Types of Headaches

While there are over 150 types of primary and secondary headaches, some of the most common types of headaches observed are-

  • Tension Headaches

This is one of the most common types of headaches. It is also called a “hatband” headache, as the pain is usually around the back of the head, temple and forehead,  in the areas where you wear a hat. While it’s usually mild and moderate, it can last upto days in severe cases.

These headaches are usually observed on one side of the head, hence they are termed as migraine. They can last from a few hours to a couple of days and are often accompanied by nausea,vomiting and sensitivity to sound or light. Migraine pain is usually throbbing in nature, making it difficult for the person to perform daily activities.

Cluster headaches, as the name suggests, happen cyclically or in cluster periods. It is one of the most intense forms of headaches.

A cluster headache is more likely to wake you up while you are sleeping in the night with sharp pain. The pain is usually one-sided and arises in and around one of your eyes.

The episodes of headaches are called cluster periods. These can come and stay for weeks to even months, followed by periods of remission when you are fine with no pain in your head. The remission periods can last for months and years.

  • Sinus Headaches

When your sinus has an infection, they get swollen and the mucus in the drain gets blocked. This increases pressure in your sinuses and the resulting pain feels like a headache. Some of the symptoms are: fever, running nose and swelling on the face.

Cause of Headache

Primary headaches

A primary headache does not mean that you have any underlying health condition. You have got pain-sensitive spots in your head. If these structures become overactive or there is any problem(s) with them, you may experience a primary headache.

Other crucial factors that can cause primary headaches to include the following:

  • Any chemical activity inside your brain
  • The blood vessels enclosing your skull
  • The nerves surrounding your skull
  • Your neck and head muscles

For some people, it is their genes that make them more susceptible to headaches.

Here are some of the most common headaches that you can call primary:

  • Cluster headache
  • Tension headache
  • Migraine with aura
  • Migraine
  • TAC (Trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia)

There are certain types of headaches that are, although considered a primary headache, are not much common. They exhibit distinct characteristics. For example, extreme pain related to doing a certain type of task activity. Although these headaches are known as primary, each one of these pains is more likely to be a synptom of an underlying health condition. It includes:

  • Exercise headaches
  • Cough headaches
  • Sex headaches
  • Chronic regular headaches, such as chronic tension headache, chronic migraine

Many lifestyle factors can trigger some of the primary headaches. It includes:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Drinking alcohol, especially red wine
  • Some food items, including processed meats containing nitrates
  • Skipping meals
  • Stress
  • Poor sitting or sleeping posture

Secondary headaches

A secondary headache indicates an underlying health condition that can trigger the pain-sensitive spots (nerves) of your head. There could be many possible causes of secondary headaches. It includes the following:

A secondary headache is the symptom of a illness that can activate pain-sensitive nerves of the head. Any number of conditions (varying significantly in severity) can cause secondary headaches.

  • Acute sinus and nasal infection (Acute sinusitis)
  • Formation of a blood clot in the brain (not stroke)
  • Arterial tears (a tear or cut in the wall of an artery)
  • Brain aneurysm (ballooning or swelling of a blood vessel in the brain)
  • Brain tumor
  • Brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation)
  • Concussion
  • Dehydration
  • Middle ear infection
  • Dental problems
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Coronavirus Infection
  • Chiari malformation
  • Brain inflammation (Encephalitis)
  • Glaucoma
  • High blood pressure
  • Giant cell arteritis (swelling in the lining of your arteries)
  • Hangovers
  • Meningitis
  • Intracranial hematoma
  • Flu (Influenza)
  • Certain medications
  • MSG (Monosodium glutamate)
  • Stroke
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Overuse of painkillers
  • Panic disorder
  • Panic attacks
  • Post-concussion syndrome
  • Pseudotumor cerebri
  • Pressure due to tight-fitting head protection gears
  • Trigeminal neuralgia

What are the symptoms of headaches?

The characteristics and their effects on daily life can vary.

  • Can cause pain on either or both sides of the head
  • Pain can be  sharp, throbbing or dull
  • Could be gradual or sudden
  • Lasts from an hour to several days

The pain could depend on the headache causes and types. You would need to visit a doctor if the pain is excruciating.

What are the risk factors of headaches?

There are certain factors associated with developing frequent headaches. This includes-

  • Age: Cluster and migraine headache can occur to anyone irrespective of any age. Migraine usually starts affecting the person during teenage years. Cluster headache begins between 20 and 50 years.
  • Sex: Migraine is quite common in women, whereas cluster headache affects men.

When To See A Doctor

Usually, headaches go away within 48 hours, but if you observe any of the issues mentioned below, do not ignore it.

  • You have a headache for more than 2 weeks
  • No relief from  prescribed pain relievers
  • Severity of headache changes over time
  • You find it difficult to speak, feel weakness or fever and observe double vision

Headache causes could be a sign of serious health conditions and might require treatment beyond over-the-counter medications and home remedies.

If you observe any of the above issues, it is better to get it checked by a doctor.

Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.

What is the treatment for headaches?

The main purpose of treatment for  headache is to relieve the pain, symptoms and reduce the frequency of occurrence. The headache;s  causes can be prevented through rest and pain relief medication. These include-

  • Over-the-counter pain relief medications
  • Prescribed medications
  • Other treatments for underlying conditions

What are the complications in headaches?

The severity and frequency of headache can make your quality of life poor. The other complications include-

Secondary headaches indicate an underlying cause and the complications will depend on the cause .

How To Prevent Headaches?

Taking care of your body and mind can help you in avoiding daily chronic headaches. Strive towards having a work life balance and avoid carrying forward the stress of your office to home. Developing a hobby and spending time with your family will enrich your soul and also ensure that you are not burned out.

  • Understand what triggers your headache and how you can avoid them
  • Reduce your dependency on medication
  • Eat healthy , cut back on alcohol , exercise regularly .


You might ignore the headache , but if it worsens or lasts long , do not overlook it. Rather than overdosing on medications, it is better to book an appointment with doctors at Apollo Hospitals and understand the headache cause.

With proper treatment and care, not only will your headaches reduce, but you will also understand the triggers which cause them in the first place.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1.      Are migraines hereditary?

In most cases, migraines are observed in people with a family history of migraine. In rare cases, some people can develop migraine-like symptoms due to head trauma.

2.      Will lifestyle change help with a headache?

Studies have reported that people who have a routine of eating, sleeping, and exercise have fewer headaches observed over time. Doctors recommend having a healthy lifestyle to reduce the occurrence of headaches.

3.      Is migraine dangerous?

While usually, they are not, some migraines such as complicated migraine, a hemiplegic migraine, and basilar migraine are known for increasing the risk of stroke in a person. People suffering from migraines  with other stroke risk factors should work on reducing such risk factors . Quitting smoking; reducing high cholesterol are important and they should work with their doctors for making adequate lifestyle changes and medications.

Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment.

Verified By Apollo General Physician
Our expert general medicine specialists verify the clinical accuracy of the content to deliver the most trusted source of information, making the management of health an empowering experience.

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