Headaches commonly affect many people. They can be described as a pressure or throbbing pain in the head or across the forehead and they can vary in intensity and severity depending on the type of headache. 

Headaches can also be experienced in different places like behind the eyes, in the temples, at the base of the neck or on the top of your head.

There are over 150 types of headaches which can be categorised as either primary or secondary headaches. 

Primary headaches are not usually caused by underlying medical conditions, but some people can be more genetically predisposed to developing headaches than others. Children are four times more likely to experience headaches and migraines if one or both of their parents is a headache sufferer.

Primary headaches include:

  • Migraines
  • Cluster headaches
  • Tension headaches

These types of headaches can be triggered by foods or lifestyle habits.

Preservatives such as sulfur dioxide in wines and nitrates in processed foods can trigger headaches. Fermented foods, chocolate, and cheese can also be triggers for headaches. Consuming large amounts of caffeine and nicotine can also be problematic because we can get withdrawal symptoms which can cause rebound headaches if we don’t keep consuming them. Rebound headaches happen when you get a headache because your body is looking for more of the substance that it is addicted to. This can also happen when we use pain medications containing codeine or caffeine too frequently.

Poor posture, sleep disruptions, and over-exertion can also cause headaches and some people can get headaches when they skip meals, and their blood sugar levels start to drop. Hormonal imbalances can also contribute to headaches and migraines.

Migraine headaches are neurological headaches that come with various symptoms and are usually experienced only on one side of the head.

They can start with visual disturbances before the onset of the pain, or with heightened sensitivity to light, smells, or sounds. Many migraine sufferers have bouts of vomiting and nausea along with an intense headache. Strong perfumes or chemical smells can trigger migraine headaches. Migraines generally last longer than most other headaches and are more intense.

Secondary headaches

Some secondary headaches can be caused by an underlying medical condition, but these are usually harmless and resolve when the condition is treated. These include headaches due to dehydration, sinus infections, or the over-use or side effects of medications.

Other secondary headaches can be due to more serious conditions, and these would need more urgent medical intervention.

People who have had a lumbar puncture can experience intense headaches when the spinal fluid leaks out of the membrane covering the spinal cord. This is quite normal, but if it lasts for longer than a few days could be a sign of more serious complications.

Thunderclap headaches are sudden headaches that cause intense pain within a minute and can take about 5 minutes to subside. These can be the result of a sudden increase in blood pressure, bleeding on the brain, a head injury, or cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome. It is always best to speak to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 13 July 2023 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am