A headache is a painful sensation in the muscles, the skin, or one of the
organs in the head or near the brain.
What is going on in the body?
Causes of headaches commonly fall into four categories:
vascular headaches, which are caused by conditions affecting the blood vessels. A
migraine is a common form of vascular
tension headaches, usually brought
on by muscle tension
inflammatory headaches, which are causd by infections or lesions such as
headaches associated with abnormalities of cranial nerves, or cranial
neuralgias. The cranial nerves supply the face, head, and neck.
There are no nerve endings in the brain itself. Therefore, a headache is a
painful sensation in the muscles, the skin, or one of the organs in the
head or near the brain. The pain can be confined to a small area or it can
cover the entire head.
Some headaches are preceded by auras, which are sensations that things are not
quite right. These auras can involve unusual sounds, smells or visions.
Most headaches are benign, which means they are self-limited and not likely to
be serious. However, some headaches are serious and require extensive
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Headaches have a wide variety of causes.
Vascular headaches include:
migraine headaches of all
classical migraines, which are
throbbing headaches that usually begin with an aura
ophthalmoplegic migraines, which
are severe headaches usually felt around the eye
cluster headaches, which are
severe, one-sided headaches that occur in groups
headaches associated with hangovers from excessive alcohol intake, or exposure to other drugs and toxins
Tension headaches are caused by stress or by abnormalities in the neck,
muscles, or bones. They can also be caused by
conversion disorders, which are psychological problems that cause symptoms
similar to those accompanying an actual physical condition.
Inflammatory headaches are caused by:
lesions such as brain tumors
meningitis, which is an infection
or inflammation of tissue covering the brain and spinal cord
bleeding into or around the brain, which occurs with a subdural hematoma, epidural hematoma, or
autoimmune disorders, or diseases
in which the body produces chemicals that attack its own tissues
arteritis, which is an inflammation of the wall of an artery
Cranial neuralgias involve severe pains in or about the face or scalp, and are
caused by abnormalities of the trigeminal or glossopharyngeal nerves. The
trigeminal nerve controls sensation in the face, cheek, and jaw. The
glossopharyngeal nerve controls the throat and vocal cords.