Headaches are one of the most common complaints received by a GP; they affect well over 10 million people each year in the UK alone. Many headaches can be easily treated if diagnosed correctly using over the counter medication and changes to diet and exercise.

Headaches can be caused by a number of factors, but there are two types of headache, which are the most common;

  • A primary headache –no other health concerns
  • A secondary headache-another illness causes the headache

There is more information on both types of headaches below, click the links to find out more information on the different causes of headaches.

Primary headaches

A tension headache

A tension headache is extremely common and many of us suffer from them regularly. Symptoms of a tension headache include a slight ache and a tightening pressure around the head.

There are a range of causes that include an unhealthy lifestyle, anxiety and stress, not drinking enough fluids and depression.

A migraine

A migraine is not as common as a tension headache and symptoms can leave people feeling unable to continue with their everyday lives.

Those suffering from a migraine describe symptoms of a throbbing pain on the sides of the head.

Migraines can usually be treated with over the counter medication but some sufferers need stronger medication that can be prescribed by a doctor.

A cluster headache

A cluster headache is the third most common primary headache and can cause immense pain around either the left or right eye. This type of headache is not common and they tend to occur over a period of time before they stop, hence the name cluster.

Cluster headaches are not easily treated by everyday medication, but a prescribed course of treatment by a doctor can ease symptoms.

Secondary headaches

These can occur because of a range of issues, including alcohol abuse and injuries to the head.

Headaches can also occur when you have other illnesses such as a cold or flu, an allergy flares up or you have sinusitis.

Headaches caused by medication

If certain medications are used too often or in large amounts, they can cause headaches, especially painkillers.

Headaches caused by hormones

Women often suffer from headaches linked to their periods. Certain contraceptives, going through the menopause and being pregnant cause also trigger hormonal headaches.

Temporomandibular joint disorders

For those suffering from TJDs, one of the main side effects is a headache. TJDs cause problems around the jaw joint. This runs from just in front of the ear canal to the temple.

Up to thirty percent of the population will suffer with TJD at least once in their lifetime. Symptoms will usually stop after a couple of months.

Find out more about TJDs.

GCA (giant cell arteritis)

Giant cell arteritis is a condition that causes the medium to large arteries to swell up. This normally affects people that are over 60.

GCA is considered a very serious condition and a GP should be called immediately if certain symptoms occur. These include a very painful headache, pain in the jaw when eating, difficulty seeing clearly and a painful scalp.

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