Man Having a Headache, grabbing his head.

Headaches

Headaches are among the most common problems doctors hear about. They can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, or gender.

Enduring a headache can be a painful, exhausting experience, and recurring headaches can have a big impact on your life. The good news is that they’re treatable, usually through a combination of medications and behavioral therapies, like trigger avoidance or lifestyle changes.

The three most common types of headaches are:

  • Tension-type headaches
  • Migraines
  • Cluster headaches

However, several other types of headache disorders exist. Talking to your doctor about your specific headache symptoms and triggers can be an important first step toward effective treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are headaches?

    Many types of headaches exist. Essentially, a headache is defined as pain in your head, face, or upper neck. Headaches are the result of interactions between your brain and the nerves and blood vessels in your head. Experts don’t yet understand the underlying mechanism behind this, but certain nerves that impact blood vessels become activated and start sending pain signals to the brain.

  • Why do we get headaches?

    People get headaches because of a complex mix of genetics, abnormalities in the brain, dysfunctional or overactive pain receptors, environmental triggers, and a neurological state called sensitization. The most common kind of headache, called a tension-type headache, is believed to result from the activation of pain receptors in the muscles and a connective tissue called fascia.

  • How can I relieve a headache?

    The right treatment for a headache depends on the type. Generally, headaches are treated with a combination of:

    • Home remedies (rest, cool compress)
    • Lifestyle changes (more sleep, dietary changes)
    • Over-the-counter drugs (Advil, Tylenol)
    • Prescription drugs (anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, triptans)
    • Other therapies and procedures (physical therapy, Botox)
    • Complementary/alternative medicine (meditation, yoga)
  • How long can a headache last?

    How long a headache lasts depends on its type:

    • A tension-type headache may last anywhere from half an hour to a week
    • Cluster headaches tend to last between 45 and 90 minutes
    • The painful phase of a migraine can last up to about 72 hours
    • Primary exercise headaches usually last less than 24 hours
    • Primary cough headaches typically last for a few seconds or maybe a minute
  • What foods help with headaches?

    An anti-inflammatory diet or low-fat diet may help you avoid headaches. The Mediterranean diet is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to lower inflammation and even alter your pain perception. It’s also low in omega-6 fatty acids, which have the opposite effect. That makes this diet a popular choice for people with headaches.

Key Terms

A woman at work suffering from a nummular headache
Symptoms and Treatment of a Nummular Headache
GPR - Global Postural Re-education, doctor holding patient's head
Tension Headaches: Symptoms, Triggers and Treatment
man with headache laying down
Depression and Anxiety in People With Cluster Headaches
Some Headaches are Linked to Your Pregnancy
Evaluation of Headache During Pregnancy
Saline nasal spray may ease sinus congestion and pain
Sinus Headaches: Overview and More
Woman with headache
Hemicrania Continua Headaches Symptoms and Treatment
Lightening over a train track
Overview of Primary Thunderclap Headache
Tension Headaches May Resemble a Rubber Band Around Your Head
Tension Headaches: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention
primary-headache.jpg
What are the Rare Primary Headache Disorders?
woman with headache
What Is a Chronic Tension Headache?
Young boy outside eating ice cream.
Dealing With an Ice Cream Headache
What is a Whiplash Headache?
What Is Whiplash?
Working at a computer can lead to headaches.
Cluster Headaches: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Coping
Boy lying down with arm covering forehead
Overview of Headaches in Children
woman with a headache
Excedrin for Migraines and Tension-Type Headaches
Head pain associated with the occipital nerves is sudden, jabbing, piercing, burning and/or throbbing.
Occipital Neuralgia: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Daith Piercing as a Controversial, Alternative Migraine Therapy
Daith Piercing for Migraine
I hope this works
Sumatriptan for Acute Migraine Treatment
Taking Zoming to Prevent Menstrual Migraine
Zolmitriptan (Zolmitriptan) for Migraine Treatment
SPECT Scanner.
SPECT Scan: Uses, Side Effects, Procedure, Results
Mixed Race woman rubbing forehead
Vestibular Migraines: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Anxious student rubbing forehead doing homework
Symptoms and Treatment for Tension Headache in Children
Front view of teen with hands on her head
Managing Childhood Migraines
man with glasses getting headache from phone
Headaches and Your Vision
teen girl with headache
Migraines and Headaches in Teens
There are several types of headaches.
The Different Types of Migraines
482145113-1.jpg
Primary Stabbing Headache and Autoimmune Disease
blurry city skyline
Migraine With Aura: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Woman with tremendous headache
Signs and Symptoms of Cluster Headaches
Young Woman On Bed
Characteristics of Chronic Pain
123347806.jpg
Overview of Trigeminal Neuralgia
Pregnant woman sitting in the office
Recognizing Dangerous Headaches in Pregnancy
Man talking with his doctor
SNOOP Criteria for Headache Red Flags or Warning Signs
man with headache at computer
Symptoms of Common Primary Headache Disorders
Close-up of anxious person's hands
How Your Personality Relates to Your Headaches
a woman pressing on a shoulder trigger point.
Myofascial Trigger Points and Tension Headaches
How Your Hormones May be Affecting Your Headaches
Connection Between Headaches and Hormones
Illustration of infectious causes of headache and fever
Infections That Cause Headaches and a Fever
plate of chinese food on a table
What Is an MSG-Induced Headache?
Mother holding newborn
Benign and Serious Causes of Headaches After Pregnancy
Close-up of hand holding vitamin D pills.
Are Your Headaches Due to Low Vitamin D?
Underwater view of mature male athlete swimming during morning workout
An Overview of Swim-Related Headaches
Businessman at desk in office with closed eyes
Causes of New-Onset Headache After 50
How Weather May Trigger Headaches
Chinese food
Common Headache Triggers You Can Avoid
Happy couple having a laugh
Can an Orgasm Cure Your Headache?
Coping With a Hangover Headache
Hangover Headache Causes and Treatment
Man grabbing his head in pain
What Triggers Cluster Headaches?
How Headaches May Develop At Work
Causes of Headaches at Work
How Your Computer May Cause a Headache
Colourful luxury cleaning household products
How to Prevent Headaches From Cleaning Products
An espresso shot being made
What is a Caffeine Withdrawal Headache?
A woman on the couch suffering from a headache
How a Headache May Be a Sign of a Stroke
A depressed woman with a headache
Headaches as a Symptom of Depression
How a Bleeding Tumor in the Pituitary Gland May Cause a Severe Headache
How a Pituitary Tumor May Cause a Severe Headache
A cocktail sitting on a table
Cocktail Headache: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Woman coughing in her kitchen
Headache From Coughing (Valsalva Maneuver)
Mid adult woman with headache
Hypoglycemia and Headaches
Woman drinking water from glass, close-up, profile
Understanding Dehydration as a Headache Trigger
Tourist admiring the view from the top of a mountain in Loen, Norway
How Acute Mountain Sickness Causes Headaches
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Manandhar K, Risal A, Steiner TJ, Holen A, Linde M. The prevalence of primary headache disorders in Nepal: a nationwide population-based study. J Headache Pain. 2015;16:95. doi:10.1186/s10194-015-0580-y

  2. Finocchi C, Sassos D. Headache and arterial hypertension. Neurol Sci. 2017;38(Suppl 1):67-72. doi:10.1007/s10072-017-2893-x

  3. Nascimento FA, Sória MG, Rizelio V, Kowacs PA. Cerebral venous thrombosis with migraine-like headache and the trigeminovascular system. Case Rep Neurol Med. 2016;2016:2059749. doi:10.1155/2016/2059749

Additional Reading