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Answering The Questions What Causes Headaches

Updated on July 21, 2008

What Causes Headaches?

Just about all of us will have suffered from headaches ranging from very mild and occasional headaches to frequent blinding attacks which can last for days at a time. But just what causes a headache? This is a very difficult question to answer because there are literally thousands of things which can give rise to a headache. However, most of us tend to suffer from what we might call common headaches and here there are a number of common causes.

One very common cause of a headache is simple eyestrain brought on by spending too much time staring at a computer screen or television, or perhaps reading a book. Inflammation of the sinuses as the result of an allergy or a head cold is another often seen reason for a headache, as is the overuse of certain prescription and over-the-counter medications.

In many cases however there is no immediately obvious cause but the mechanism behind a headache may help to point us in the right direction. We do not know exactly what produces the pain of a headache but in many cases it is thought to be a constriction of the blood vessels in the head which activates nerves running along these blood vessels to send signals to the brain which are then interpreted as pain. This for example is believed to be the main cause of both tension-type and cluster headaches. A similar effect can also occur when these same blood vessels dilate and this can once again lead to cluster headaches and also to migraines, although there are also believed to be other factors at work when it comes to migraine headaches.

In some cases of course headaches can be the secondary effect of an underlying condition or disease which can range from quite minor ailments to serious conditions such as encephalitis or a brain tumor. The list of conditions which can produce headaches is very long and includes everything from irritable bowel syndrome to scarlet fever.

Environmental factors also play a part and many people suffer headaches from the carbon dioxide emitted by car exhausts or as a result of even very mild food poising. Sensitivity to pollen and other allergic reactions are common today and, although it is thankfully now becoming rare, some people still suffer as a result of lead poisoning.

Food too is a common culprit and many common foods such as cheese and chocolate can produce headaches in a surprisingly large portion of the population, as can some preservatives like monosodium glutamate, coffee and that old favorite red wine.

Fortunately most headaches can be cured very quickly and easily with a wide range of medications and this is particularly true of such things as tension headaches which are by far the most commonly seen form of headache. Nevertheless, in some instances just what causes headaches still remains something of a mystery and research into this subject is likely to be needed for several more years before we have an answer to all of our questions about headaches.


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    • OIFVETERAN profile image

      OIFVETERAN 9 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      you must get a lot of headaches!!