Understanding Headaches and Migraines: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Understanding Headaches and Migraines: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments | HealthSoul

Headaches and migraines are very common. They cause throbbing pain or pressure in the head. Migraines also cause other symptoms like nausea as well as sensitivity to light and sound.

What Are Headaches?

A headache means pain anywhere in the head. It can occur on one or both sides of the head. Headaches have many causes. Some headaches happen when other body parts have problems. Other headaches happen without any other health issues.

Primary headaches are those that don’t happen because of other health problems. The main types are tension headaches, cluster headaches, and migraines.

Secondary headaches happen because of other health issues. These issues can be with the neck, nose, and sinuses, the brain or nervous system, or tumors.

What Are Migraines?

Migraine is a serious health condition. It is more than just a bad headache. Besides head pain, migraines cause nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. They also cause symptoms that people call an “aura”. These happen before or along with head pain.

Stages of a Migraine

Migraines usually happen in four stages, but not all people get every stage:


One or two days before the pain starts, people may notice subtle changes in mood like depression or food cravings. Fatigue, neck stiffness, and constipation or diarrhea can also happen.


This stage causes disturbances to the senses like seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, or feeling prickling in an arm or leg. About 15% to 20% of people with migraine get auras. An aura signals that a headache will happen soon.


The actual head pain phase happens in this stage due to inflammation around the nerves and blood vessels of the brain. The pain is moderate to severe. It can last for hours or days. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, or dizziness.


After the attack, most people feel exhausted. They may also feel confused, anxious, and moody. These symptoms gradually go away after a day. But some people can feel tired for a few days after the main headache pain goes away.

Causes of Headaches

Headaches can happen due to many reasons:

  • Stress – This causes muscle tension affecting the shoulders, neck, and scalp areas which results in tension headaches. Stress also triggers headaches like migraines.
  • Muscle tension – Activities, poor posture, and stress cause muscles to tighten resulting in a tension headache affecting both sides of the head.
  • Dehydration – Fluid loss causes reduced blood volume triggering painful headaches. Most people find relief after drinking water.
  • Diet – Certain foods or skipping meals cause headaches in some people due to chemical changes.
  • Sleep issues – Lack of restful sleep often causes next morning headaches due to chemical changes.
  • Environment – Bright lights, strong smells, and secondhand smoke can trigger migraine headaches for some people.

Causes of Migraines

Factors triggering migraines include:

  • Hormonal changes – Fluctuations around the menstrual cycle commonly trigger migraines in women. The use of birth control pills also causes migraines.
  • Genetics – People with family members having migraine disease have a higher risk. It suggests that the condition runs in families due to specific genes that make people more sensitive.
  • Diet – Certain foods like cheese and processed meat contain chemicals that can set off migraines in sensitive people. Skipping meals lowers blood sugar and also acts as a trigger.
  • Sensory stimuli – Bright flashing lights or glaring sunlight can set off migraines with auras. Certain smells also trigger attacks due to sensitive nervous system responses producing symptoms like nausea.
  • Stress – High-stress jobs, relationship issues, financial troubles, or traumatic events commonly cause migraines in sensitive people by affecting brain chemistry.
  • Physical causes – Changes in sleep patterns and physical overexertion just before a workout can trigger migraines too.

Symptoms of Headaches

Tension Headaches

Dull, constant head pain is described as a feeling of tightness or pressure around the front, top, or sides of the head. Tenderness in the scalp, neck, and shoulder muscles often happens too.

Cluster Headaches

It causes severe piercing pain feeling like a hot poker in the eye socket area on one side of the head. Watery eyes, and runny nose on the same side occur too. Some people may also feel restless and agitated.

Sinus Headaches

Cause localized pain affecting sinus areas across the face alongside congestion symptoms like runny nose and facial pressure as nasal passages become irritated during infection flare-ups.

Symptoms of Migraines

  • Intense headache: – Typically happens on one side having pulsating or throbbing pain from moderate to severe intensity. Pain gets worse from physical activity.
  • Nausea and vomiting: This happens in about 60% of migraines. Nausea begins even before head pain starts during the aura phase.
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia): Due to irritation of optic nerve pathways signals go to the brain increasing head pain perceptions when they detect light. Need to rest in dark rooms frequently.
  • Aura: – Causes visual disturbances like bright zigzag lines, shimmering spots, or temporary blurry vision before the headache phase, which signals migraines that often occur within an hour and last under 60 minutes for most people.
  • Sensory changes: Numbness or tingling sensations in the face, arms, and legs occur. People also report feeling dizzy along with an amplified perception of sounds and smells just before the onset of the pain phase.
  • Mood changes: Some people may experience noticeable mood changes like feelings of depression, euphoria, irritability, or restless agitation hours before the headaches start.
  • Fatigue: The feeling of tiredness begins early in the attack phase due to communication that is chemical in nature, sending signals to reduce physical activity and causing exhaustion, eventually requiring long rest after the attack stops.

Treatment Options for Headaches and Migraine

The most effective treatment involves preventing triggers and using medications appropriately.


Over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen can relieve occasional tension or migraine headaches if taken early.

Prescription drugs like triptans and ergots constrict swollen blood vessels in the brain easing moderate to severe migraine pain. They help best when taken soon after the start of the attack phase.

Daily preventive medications like beta blockers, anti-seizure drugs, or antidepressants reduce the frequency and intensity of chronic migraine attacks. They are not pain relievers.

Lifestyle Changes

Making healthy lifestyle choices helps minimize triggers, reducing headache episodes:

  • Practice stress management techniques like meditation
  • Exercise consistently most days of the week
  • Follow a balanced, nutritious diet with plenty of water
  • Develop good sleep habits for quality night-time rest

Alternative Therapies

Complementary therapies provide natural headache relief for some people:

  • Acupuncture restores energy flow and blood circulation
  • Massage therapy relaxes tense muscles, often triggering headaches
  • Chiropractors correct neck misalignments affecting nerves
  • Herbal supplements like butterbur, feverfew, and ginger root ease migraine symptoms

When to See a Doctor

Most headaches don’t require seeing a doctor. But consult one promptly if having:

  • Sudden severe headache: – Could signal hemorrhagic stroke requiring rapid medical intervention
  • Headache with fever or neck stiffness: May indicate infections like meningitis needing diagnosis, testing and treatment
  • Worsening pattern over time: Changing intensity, frequency, or character can reflect secondary causes needing medical investigation
  • Strange sensations or difficulty speaking: Neurological symptoms warrant clinical exam assessing brain and nervous system involvement

For complex headache diagnoses or supplemental lifestyle management advice, consulting headache specialists or a migraine specialist proves invaluable in gaining wisdom in managing tricky symptoms holistically.


Headaches and migraines are common. While overusing pain medications often causes more harm in the long term, identifying triggers and minimizing exposures through healthy lifestyle habits proves most effective in reducing episodic attacks naturally. Learn relaxation practices, manage stress while staying active, and eat nutritious diets too. Finally, by understanding your specific headache patterns and then avoiding sparking activities uniquely, people restore vibrant comfort heading into each day ahead mercifully headache-free, appreciating relief lasting at long last.