A headache is a kind of pain in the head, scalp or neck. Causes of common headaches can include:

  • Stress
  • Tight muscles in shoulders, neck, scalp or jaw
  • Too little sleep
  • Poor posture
  • Skipped meals
  • Alcohol or drug use 
  • Illness or injury

There are four types of primary headaches:

  • Tension Headaches are the most common type of headaches, typically caused by tight muscles in the scalp, jaw, neck and shoulders. They usually happen gradually and can be triggered by stress, anxiety, depression, poor posture or jaw clenching. Symptoms can include dull, aching pain; tightness or pressure across the forehead, sides and back of head; and soreness of scalp, neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Vascular Headaches are caused by inflamed blood vessels inside the head. The most well-known types are migraines and cluster headaches. These headaches often cause pain for hours or days at a time. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting and pain in bright light or with loud sounds. These kinds of headaches may go away and come back again over and over.
  • Inflammatory Headaches are caused by problems in the sinuses, spine, neck, ears or teeth which result in swelling in the head. Sinus headaches are pretty common and happen when sinuses are swollen, inflamed and/or infected. Symptoms can include pain near the eyes, cheeks and forehead; fever, sore throat and stuffy nose. Other inflammatory headaches can result from diseases or infections such as meningitis or other sickness.
  • Traction headaches are not common. This type of headache can be caused when nerves are pulled or stretched (for example, strained eye muscles). Or they result from a serious medical condition such as a brain tumor, stroke or head trauma (bleeding inside the head).

Secondary headaches are caused by medical conditions (such as disease, injury, or a brain tumor).

Not all headaches need medical treatment. But, you should talk with your doctor if you have migraines often (three or more per month), or pain that will not go away. You doctor may suggest:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting enough rest
  • Eating regular, healthy meals and drinking plenty of water
  • Avoiding foods that may set off headaches
  • Taking medications
  • Counseling
  • Lowering your stress
  • Meeting with a doctor who specializes in headache care

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, MedicineNet

Find a Doctor or Hospital

Use our Provider Finder® to search for doctors and other health care providers near you.

Contact Us

  • 1-888-657-6061 (TTY 711)
  • 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Time Monday through Friday
  • Contact Us