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Headaches are one of the most common health complaints, but most are easily treated.

Most headaches aren't serious and can be treated with medicines and lifestyle changes such as getting more rest and drinking enough fluids.

Primary headaches are those that aren't due to another underlying health problem. The main types include:

  • Tension headaches are the most common and feel like a dull ache with constant pressure around the front and are what we think of as normal everyday headaches. Stress is one cause but there are lots of others including drinking too much alcohol, not getting enough sleep, depression, skipping meals and  becoming dehydrated.
  • Migraines are less common and are recurrent and disabling to the point of stopping you from carrying on with daily life.
  • Cluster headaches are excruciatingly painful headaches which cause an intense pain around one eye. They usually happen in clusters for a month or two at a time, around the same time every year.

Secondary headaches have a separate cause, such as illness, and include headaches that come on after drinking too much alcohol or after a head injury or concussion.

Headaches in women are often caused by hormones, and many women notice a link with their periods. The Pill, menopause and pregnancy are also potential triggers.

Some headaches are a side effect of taking a particular medication including painkillers, and sometimes people get headaches when they're unwell. You may get a headache when you've had a cold, sinusitis, flu or an allergic reaction, for example.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Headache)

Facts & figures

  • About 15% of adults have migraines. Women are affected 2-3 times more often than men, and hormones are thought to play a role.
  • About 40% of children will have experienced at least one headache by the age of seven, and 80% of them will have had one by the age of 15.

Sources: myDr (Headaches: the different types), Raising Children Network (Headache)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013