While many of the causes of headaches are known, there are some types of headaches with unclear causation.  Migraines and cluster headaches are two headaches that have unclear causes.  While we do know some things that aggravate these conditions, their true causes are unknown to us. Some other types of headaches have very clear cut causes. These headaches are often considered secondary headaches because they are symptoms of underlying health issues or are cause by other health concerns.  While a condition or situation may cause a headache for one individual it may have little or no effect on another.


Headaches caused by stress can start almost anytime. But are most likely to start close to the time when a stressful event is about to or has taken place.  Stressors are often individual so that for one person the cause may be work related, for another it might be an impending medical procedure and for some it may be finances or family matters.  Things that stress one person may be inconsequential or less important to the next.  Some people who undergo a great deal of stress never even get headaches.  These tension headaches, as they are known, tend to feel like the head is being squeezed in one or more regions, they are achy and can be quite mild or somewhat intense.  These are generally not so intense as to be debilitating although a more severe one can seem that way for a short time.

Sleep Issues

Several issues that are associated with sleep are known to cause a tension type of headache.  Chief among these would be a lack of sufficient quality sleep. Being over tired is one of the most common causes of a headache.  Other issues that involve sleeping include nighttime grinding of the teeth which likely causes the muscles of the jaw, face and head to become overworked.  People who grind their teeth excessively in their sleep will often have chronic mild to moderate headaches.  Sleeping with the head and neck awkwardly positioned is another common cause of headaches.  This will often cause other types of aches and pains as well.  Not sleeping when you are tired, not insomnia but being too busy to sleep when the body and mind have had enough is also a cause of headaches because this can lead to substantial fatigue to the point of triggering a headache that may actually force you to stop whatever it is that has you so busy so that you will go to sleep. Insomnia, where one has prolonged bouts without any sleep at all is another of these types of headaches causes.

Common Infections

Sinusitis, the common cold, the flu and other common ailments are often accompanied by a headache.  Some people experience headaches whenever they have a fever.  Others will complain of headaches whenever they have a severe cough.  Still others get headaches with any form of congestion in the head.  Sinus infections, because of the location of the sinuses are characterized by pressure headaches caused by the irritated and infection filled sinus cavities.  As with all of the other known causes of headaches not all people who experience these infections will have a headache.  Those that do suffer from headache pain will have varying degrees of pain from different scenarios. For instance, some people barely complain about headaches with a sinus infection while others cannot even et out of bed because the headache pain is so severe.  With these types of headaches is is necessary to get rid of the infection, which is the root cause of the pain, in order for the patient to feel better.  With a cold or viral infection one will generally have to wait for it to run its course, but with bacterial infections getting an antibiotic and killing off the infection will bring about relief.  In the meantime, aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are all over the counter remedies that bring many people relief from the pain.

Hormonal Changes

Mainly an issue for women, hormonal changes account for a large percentage of headaches.  A large percentage of women who suffer PMS get headaches related to the hormonal changes associated with menstruation.  Even some women who do not report other PMS symptoms report getting headaches each month and, on occasion, some will report getting them every other month.  As a woman transitions into menopause and hormonal levels change she will often experience headaches at times when she had not previously done so.  For some women this rectifies once their bodies have fully transitioned into menopause and they have grown accustomed to a new status quo, for others this will be an ongoing issue.  Pregnancy can be a time when a woman will experience headaches due to changes in hormone levels to which she is not accustomed.  These headaches will be gone after the child is born and hormone levels return to their pre-pregnancy state.  Hormone replacement therapy, using birth control pills, or other treatment s that affect hormone levels cause headaches a great deal of the time.

A Serious Situation

Much rarer than the headaches mentioned above are headaches caused by very serious medical conditions.  A brain aneurysm, which involves a weakening in the walls of a blood vessel that can actually erupt and cause a bleed, is one such condition. More serious infections such as meningitis or encephalitis can cause severe headaches accompanied with fevers and other symptoms.  Also, cancer or a brain tumor will often cause an excruciating headache.  While these conditions are less common, they are not unheard of or rare. It is important that headache sufferers get an initial evaluation to rule some of these issues out.

A headache that is more serious is a big deal.  Patients, who start to experience headaches but have never had them before, especially if they are getting on in years, should consult a physician.  If a headache does not respond to over the counter medications and simply worsens as time goes on it should be checked out. If at any time a patient experiences an excruciating headache, possibly one that would be called the worst pain ever in his or her life, he should seek immediate medical attention.  Headaches that get severe very suddenly, that are accompanied by a fever and a stiff neck that is hard or impossible to move, that come on after an injury to the head, neck or upper body, or that are accompanied by numbness or mental confusion should be checked out immediately.  While often these turn out to just be a bad headache, it is important to rule out more serious causes of headaches with a medical professional.