Headaches are extremely common and most of them aren’t a cause for anxiety. Occasionally, though, a headache is a symptom of a serious illness, such as meningitis or a brain haemorrhage, and requires urgent medical attention. Tension headaches are the most common type.
What are the causes?
About three out of four headaches are caused by tension in the scalp or neck muscles due to stress. Tension headaches tend to occur frequently and cause moderate pain, particularly at the back and front of the head. It’s often described as a tight band encircling the head. Other common causes of headaches include hangovers, having irregular meals, long journeys, noise, a stuffy atmosphere, thundery weather, too much sleep, too much excitement, a fever, sinusitis and toothache.
A migraine is a one-sided severe headache with eye symptoms and possibly vomiting and can run in families. A severe headache with fever, a stiff neck and rash may be a sign of meningitis, a condition in which the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord become inflamed.
A sudden headache that feels like a blow to the back of the head could be a subarachnoid haemorrhage, in which bleeding occurs between the membranes covering the brain.
In elderly people, a headache with tenderness of the scalp or temple may be due to temporal arteritis, in which blood vessels in the head become inflamed.
What might be done?
If your doctor suspects an underlying condition, you may require tests, such as CT scanning or MRI of your brain, and an opinion from a neurologist.
What’s the treatment?
The treatment depends on the cause of the headache. For example, a tension headache will usually clear up with rest and painkillers. Cluster headaches and migraines can be treated with drugs. Excess painkillers, especially those containing codeine, can actually cause a headache.