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Common Causes and Cures of Headaches

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Woman with Headache
Credit: Wikipedia: uploaded by Doc James

Headaches are among the most common physical ailments suffered by just about everyone at one point or another. That ongoing, nagging and uncomfortable ache in the cranium can be so maddening. 

First, let us clarify the difference between a common headache and a migraine. A migraine tends to be recurring, quite severe and can often be disabling. This comes with other severe symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting. Often migraines are connected with neurological causes and require medical oversight. A common headache carries a dull pain with some pressure in the head. These are less frequent and predictable. A common headache does not come with other symptoms like the migraine. 

There are also headaches labeled as "secondary" headaches. These are caused by an underlying medical condition, such as a tumor or aneurysm. Secondary headaches are more rare but can be a sign of a very serious medical condition requiring immediate medical attention. If you are unsure if your headache is an annoying common headache, migraine or potentially a secondary headache, review symptoms and, if unsure, seek medical attention. 

For those common, infrequent, non-severe but still very annoying headaches, there are triggering factors that bring them on and ways to help push them away. 


It is amazing what effect stress can have on the human body. One of the most common causes of headaches in adults is from stress - the daily grind, I'm running late, where are my keys, put that down, don't hit your sister... that type of stress. As this builds your muscles tighten and your heart rate increases. Reducing stress and anxiety is a good start in reducing headaches.

1. Take long, slow, deep breathes to begin relaxing your muscles and slowing your heart rate.
2. Meditate or practice daily yoga (or some other form of relaxing stretches). 
3. Exercise every day, even if it's just a walk around the block. 
4. Find a way to laugh, even if  you have to force it (eventually you'll laugh at the fact that you're forcing yourself to laugh).

If your stress level seems constant and your headaches are becoming more and more regular, then it is time to sit down and find a solution to reduce your stress level. Seek help in time management, find a friend or support group to help you get organized, or figure out how to get rid of whatever the big stressor is in your life. Is it  your job? Consider a career change. 

Sleeping Habits

Busy Americans tend to sacrifice sleep before anything else. A lack of sleep or irregular sleeping habits can put added tension on your body, leading to increased stress (see above). As your body fatigues from poor amounts of sleep your ability to cope with stress weakens. The combination of fatigue and added stress can lead to headaches (which lead to more stress... a horrible cycle). Fatigue also leads to other behavioral issues that can cause headaches, such as a lack of exercise or not drinking an appropriate amount of water. 

1. Get an adequate amount of sleep - which for most people is eight hours.
2. Have a shut down time where work and projects halt and you have time to relax, then go to bed.
3. Keep electronic devices away from your bedside. Reading on your iPad or phone can stimulate your energy levels, leading to difficulty in falling asleep. 

Alcohol Consumption & Dehydration

A few too many alcoholic drinks is well known for causing a headache later. It's the infamous hangover. There are two main reasons why alcohol consumption will lead to headaches - it interferes with sleep and dehydrates the body. As listed above, a lack of sleep leads to fatigue and stress, which leads to increased chances of headaches. 

Being overly dehydrated also leads to headaches. As the body's water levels and sodium levels decrease, your chemical compositions in your blood begin to shift, which triggers the brain to activate nerves and leads to a headache. Alcohol is commonly consumed without water and it increases the body's sugar levels, leading towards dehydration. This same effect can be found in coffee drinkers, where caffeine becomes the diuretic that lowers the body's water levels and leads to dehydration, and hence coffee headaches. 

1. Consume plenty of water every day, and especially when drinking coffee or alcohol. Keep yourself hydrated.
2. If you're drinking water and still getting headaches, try supplementing with a beverage high in electrolytes, such as Gatorade, and add extra potassium to your diet. Your cause of headaches may be in low levels of your body's essential salts (e.g. sodium and potassium for the most part).
3. Also consume water while exercising, as your body is losing both water and essential salts while you sweat. 
4. Drink a glass of water first thing every morning when you wake up. This gets your system up and running and, for many of us, counteracts some of the water loss from our coffee intake. 


Although there are numerous causes of headaches, the most common are stress, lack of sleep and dehydration (whether it be through alcohol consumption, not drinking enough water, or through sweat in exercise without replenishment). Addressing these common causes with simple behavioral changes is often the most effective way to reduce the onset of headaches. There is also the option of Tylenol or other over-the-counter drug for temporary relief, but if the cause is behavioral it is best to address the cause for long term relief (and overall general health).

If the occurrence of headaches becomes more frequent or the severity of the headaches increases, see your doctor. Although it may be something minor, more serious issues could be causing headaches as a symptom. Remember, a headache is your body's way of telling you that something is not quite right. Whether it is the need to drink more water or get more sleep, your body knows something is out of whack. 

None of the above information is intended to be medical or professional advice. If you have any doubts or concerns regarding the severity of your headaches contact a medical professional. If you are unsure, it is better to be safe and get medical advice rather than ignoring what could be a larger underlying problem. 

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  1. "Migraine vs. Headaches: How to Tell Them Apart." Healthline. 9/07/2015 <Web >

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