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Understanding Headaches and How to Prevent Them

Man with headache

There’s one thing everyone agrees on: headaches are the worst. They can be unpredictable, unforgiving and wholly unwelcome. The good news is that most headaches are generally not dangerous and can be easily treated with a basic pain reliever.

So, what’s behind them? Headaches stem from nerves that send pain signals to the brain. Of course, there can be several things that trigger these pain signals. Researchers are still learning about what causes them and how to better treat chronic headaches.

Headaches are divided into two categories: primary and secondary.

Types of primary headaches:

  • Tension
  • Migraine
  • Cluster
    • Symptoms include intense pain in or around one eye on one side of your head
    • This type of headache is rare and not life-threatening, but can be extremely painful
  • New daily persistent headaches begin without warning and go on for 3 months or longer


Tension or migraine headaches can be traced to the following non-medical causes:

  • Alcohol use
  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine
  • Allergens
  • Noise
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Chemical cleaners or perfumes


Changes to eating or sleeping patterns, emotional stress, lighting or swings in weather can also trigger tension or migraine headaches.

Secondary headaches are caused by a medical issue, such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Head injury
  • Infection
  • Medication overuse
  • Sinus congestion
  • Disease in the blood vessels
  • Trauma
  • Brain tumor


Seek care when a headache leads to the following neurological symptoms:

  • Confusion or slurred speech
  • Fever
  • Seizure or loss of consciousness
  • Numbness
  • Pain in the ear or eye
  • Stiff neck
  • Weakness
  • If multiple people in your house experience headaches at the same time


Prevention is possible. The key is finding what triggers your headaches. Pay close attention to foods, smells, household cleaners and how well you stay hydrated. For many, however, finding triggers may not be possible. In that case, you’ll want to speak directly with your doctor to create an action plan.

If you have questions, nurses are ready to chat 24/7. Simply call 1-888-258-3432.

Looking for a doctor? We’ve taken the headache out of the search. Use the National Doctor and Hospital Finder to search nationwide for a provider in your network.



Published on: May 05, 2022