Headaches

Helping you find the cause and identify treatments for your pain

Everyone has a headache from time to time, but if you have chronic headaches, it feels severe and debilitating. Not all headaches require medical attention, but sometimes a headache can indicate a serious underlying condition.

Headaches fall into four categories:

Tension Headaches

Stress causes tension headaches, the most common type of headache. Some refer to them as such because they occur when the muscles in your neck, face, scalp and jaw tighten for an extended period. Tension headaches usually cause pain on both sides of the head and can feel as though you have a band tightening around your skull. You may feel mild to moderate pain.

Some people get tension headaches as a result of skipped meals, fatigue, depression or overexertion. They can last for a short time or several days. They usually disappear once your stress resolves. But you could also experience chronic tension headaches for weeks at a time.

Inflammatory Headaches

You may get inflammatory headaches from sinus or tooth infections. Bacterial meningitis—an infection of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord—can also cause your inflammatory headache.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches affect more men than women and usually cause pain on one side of your head. Cluster headaches often occur at the same time of day or night for several consecutive days.

When It’s an Emergency

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should call 911, as it could be a sign of a medical emergency:

  • Sudden onset of very severe headache
  • Headache following a head injury
  • Headache with confusion, weakness, double vision or loss of consciousness

Understanding Headaches

Headaches fall into four categories:

Tension Headaches

Stress causes tension headaches, the most common type of headache. Some refer to them as such because they occur when the muscles in your neck, face, scalp and jaw tighten for an extended period. Tension headaches usually cause pain on both sides of the head and can feel as though you have a band tightening around your skull. You may feel mild to moderate pain.

Some people get tension headaches as a result of skipped meals, fatigue, depression or overexertion. They can last for a short time or several days. They usually disappear once your stress resolves. But you could also experience chronic tension headaches for weeks at a time.

Inflammatory Headaches

You may get inflammatory headaches from sinus or tooth infections. Bacterial meningitis—an infection of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord—can also cause your inflammatory headache.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches affect more men than women and usually cause pain on one side of your head. Cluster headaches often occur at the same time of day or night for several consecutive days.

When It’s an Emergency

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should call 911, as it could be a sign of a medical emergency:

  • Sudden onset of very severe headache
  • Headache following a head injury
  • Headache with confusion, weakness, double vision or loss of consciousness

At IU Health, experienced neurologists can diagnose headaches through gathering your medical history and giving you a thorough neurological exam. In some cases, your physician may also conduct magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) or laboratory studies to rule out other underlying conditions.

Neurologists usually recommended treatment if you suffer four or more severe headaches a month.

Treatment

At IU Health, experienced neurologists can diagnose headaches through gathering your medical history and giving you a thorough neurological exam. In some cases, your physician may also conduct magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) or laboratory studies to rule out other underlying conditions.

Neurologists usually recommended treatment if you suffer four or more severe headaches a month.

Patient Stories for Headaches

PubMed Health

PubMed Health provides information for consumers and clinicians on prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions.

MedlinePlus

MedlinePlus is the National Institutes of Health's Web site for patients and their families and friends produced by the National Library of Medicine with information about diseases, conditions, and wellness issues.

Resources

PubMed Health

PubMed Health provides information for consumers and clinicians on prevention and treatment of diseases and conditions.

MedlinePlus

MedlinePlus is the National Institutes of Health's Web site for patients and their families and friends produced by the National Library of Medicine with information about diseases, conditions, and wellness issues.