Headaches - cause, effect and remedies

Headaches are on top of the list of the common medical complaints that people from all over the world experience at some point in life. According to the World Health Organization, almost half of the adults in the world experience headaches in any given year.

Headaches cause a pulsing sensation or throbbing pain in the head and may be accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, nausea, or heightened sensitivity to sound and light depending on the severity.  


A headache may occur in one location of the head, one side, or on both sides of your head. Depending on what causes them, headaches are classified into: 

1. Primary headaches   A primary headache occurs as a result of a problem with the blood vessels, nerves, and chemicals that set off pain signals in the brain. Primary headaches are not a symptom of any underlying diseases.

Chemical activity in the brain, blood vessels or nerves in the head, and the muscles of the head can play a key role in setting off primary headaches. Some people also have genes that make them more susceptible to primary headaches. Primary headaches can also be caused by lifestyle patterns such as stress, skipping meals, poor posture, sleeping habits, among others.   The most common types of primary headaches are migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches.   

2. Secondary headaches   These are headaches that arise as a symptom of an underlying illness that can activate nerves in the head. Such illnesses include brain tumors, blood clots, glaucoma, dehydration, concussion, stroke, influenza, among many others.   

Types of headaches  

1. Tension headaches   These are the most common and can either be episodic or chronic. Tension headaches normally start gradually in the middle of the day and can last anywhere from a few hours up to several days. Tension headache feel like a constant, dull ache coming from both sides of your head and spreading to or from the neck.   

2. Migraines   This is probably the worst kind of headache. Migraines cause a severe pulsating, throbbing pain on one side of your head. Such pain may be accompanied by light-headedness, nausea, blurred vision, or sensory disturbances referred to as auras. Migraines can last a few hours or even go on for 2-3 days. Migraines are one of the common reasons for sick leaves.  

3. Cluster headaches    These are severe, one-sided headaches that last between 15 minutes and 3 hours. They may occur once suddenly per day or up to eight times each day for a period of weeks or longer. Cluster headaches are often described as a sharp, burning pain that typically affects the area around one eye.   

4. Rebound headaches   These arise as a result of excessive use of medication in an effort to treat headache symptoms.   

5. Thunderclap Headaches   These are severe, sudden headaches that result in unimaginable pain. They reach their maximum intensity in a minute or less and last longer than 5 minutes. They are usually as a result of other life-threatening conditions and people who experience them should seek medical attention immediately.   

Treatment of headaches  

There are many ways to deal with headaches. The most common way is by resting until the headache is gone or taking pain relief medication for quicker results. You can get such medication over the counter or from a doctor but you must always follow the instructions to avoid rebound headaches or worse complications.   

Alternative treatments 

There are other ways to treat headaches, but you need to first consult your doctor before trying them. They include:  a) acupuncture   b) nutritional and herbal health products   c) cognitive behavioural therapy   d) hypnosis  e) meditation.


Headaches can be both worrying and debilitating but there are remedies available and we would always recommend that you refer to your doctor if they persist or you have any concerns at all.

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