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Top Ten Reasons for Your Headaches and How To Avoid Them.

June 3, 2019

Writer Fisayo Aturamu explains the top ten reasons for headaches and how to avoid them in this article.

Lady of african origin sitting on a bench with both hands to her head and face screwed up in pain.
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

What are Headaches?

A headache is a pain that occurs in the head. In 2016, the WHO reported that about half to three-quarters of the world’s adult population had suffered a headache at least once in the previous year.

Headaches though self- limiting at times, are among the commonest symptoms patients complain of in the hospital.[3]

While a headache could be a manifestation of a medical condition, it could also be benign (harmless).

Therefore, it is important that we identify the common causes of headaches, and how to prevent them.

Why Do I Have a Headache? – Top Ten Causes

The following are the ten top reasons why you have a headache:

1. Stress and Anxiety

Stress is a common trigger for headaches in a lot of people.

Often, when we are emotionally or physically stressed, we get headaches that would only improve when we get rid of the stressor in our lives.

For example, ‘heartbreak’ from a broken relationship could manifest as a headache.

Most people get headaches when they are anxious e.g. a medical student preparing for finals may get headaches during the exam period.  

Therefore, it is important to identify the stressors and avoid them to prevent headaches.

Key for this to happen is to find a stress coping routine that works (and stick to it).

2. Inadequate Sleep

Sleep is very important for good health.

People with sleep disorders often get headaches as a result of lack of sleep.

These types of headaches can be relieved by improved sleeping habits and sufficient sleep. In adults, getting at least 7-9 hours of sleep will allow optimal functioning.

3. Dehydration

Ensure that you are always hydrated by trying to drink at least 3 to 5 liters of water daily.

Dehydration causes a reduction in the usual blood volume which in turn affects the amount of oxygen available for circulation.

Headache can then develop as a symptom of the reduced amount of oxygen supply to the brain.

4. Hunger

Some people may get headaches when they are hungry. This is the body’s reaction to low blood sugar. Avoid skipping meals to prevent headaches triggered by hunger.

5. Visual (Eye) Problems

Straining the eyes, a problem which happens from long- or short-sightedness can cause headaches.

Most times, these headaches are relieved by the use of corrective eyeglasses.

Glaucoma and cataracts are conditions affecting the eyes that can also cause headaches as they become more severe.

6. Certain Medical Conditions

Conditions like diabetes, hypertension and anaemia are associated with headaches.

In diabetes, a headache could be a warning sign that the blood sugar level is low.

In hypertensive patients, headaches could be a symptom of severe high blood pressure. This could lead to a stroke and should not be ignored.

In severe anaemia, there is a reduced number of red blood cells in the body.

This means less oxygen available to the body tissues including the brain, and thus severe anaemia causing headaches. 

7. Infections

Infections like the flu, common cold and an ear or throat infection may cause headaches. These headaches are cured when the infections are treated.

8. Intense Physical Activity

Some people get headaches after a period of exertion e.g. sex or exercise.

One of the ways to relieve these type of headaches is to modify the exercise routine, or be sure to adequately warm up before working out.

9. Certain Weather Conditions

Extreme heat or a change in barometric pressure may trigger headaches in some people.

Making sure you remain hydrated and away from direct sunlight can prevent heat-induced headaches.

Some people also develop headaches from the change in altitude levels while travelling by air.

Staying hydrated, avoiding alcohol and caffeine while flying may help such people.

10. Trauma

A headache may occur after an injury to the head. If you get an injury to the head. Please go to the hospital as soon as you can especially if there is any area of bruising or swelling. 

When Should I Worry About My Headache?

In some parts of the world and within certain populations there are people who appear to have a higher threshold for pain and would usually not visit the hospital for a ‘common headache’.

This is probably due to the cultural beliefs regarding headaches and (possibly) a poor health-seeking attitude.

However, here are some points that may suggest that a headache is not benign and medical attention should be sought quickly:

  • Does the headache prevent you from performing some of your necessary daily activities?
  • Is it changing in character or getting worse over time?
  • Is it the ‘worst headache of your life’?
  • Is it recurrent (coming and going)?
  • Does it occur with any of the following: fever/rash/vomiting?
  • Have you experienced a change in vision or a droopy eyelid?
  • Has your sense of smell increased?
  • Have you developed a stiff neck or neck pain?
  • Is there a weakness or a change in sensation on one side of the body?
  • Have you found the headache isn’t relieved with the use of over-the-counter pain medication?
  • Does the headache get worse with coughing or by movement?
  • Is it common just after you wake up in the mornings?
  • Have you noticed if the headache travels to your jaw?[12]
  • Does it happen with dizziness, fits, confusion or fainting spells?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then it is important you immediately let your doctor know about the headache. 

Headaches are often associated with a lot of superstitions in many developing countries; however, a headache is not a ‘spiritual’ attack.

If one develops a headache that persists, please seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Read More:

Edited by AskAwayHealth Team


All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care. The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly through

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