Headaches: the 10 main causes and those that should lead you to consult

Headaches: the 10 main causes and those that should lead you to consult

Everyone has suffered from a headache at one time or another. But if it is generally completely benign, it can also be a symptom of a more serious pathology. Update with Dr. Gérald Kierzek, emergency physician and medical director of TipsForWomens.

Any pain located in the skull is commonly called a “headache”. Called headache in medicine, a headache can be a pain in itself, but also a symptom of another more serious pathology. “For any headache” advise Dr. Kierzek first, “It is recommended to measure your blood pressure. Because the headache linked to hypertension is a sign that it is poorly tolerated.“.

How to differentiate headaches?

Headaches are distinguished by several elements:

  • Their mode of occurrence: gradual or sudden;
  • Their location: half of the skull, a precise point…
  • Their intensity: simple discomfort or sharp pain, which will be throbbing or continuous;
  • Their circumstances of occurrence: taking medications, alcohol, pollution, etc.
  • Their duration: acute or chronic headache
  • Their accompanying signs: nausea, fever, numbness, vomiting, loss of sensitivity…

What are the causes of a headache?

Headaches are therefore all different, depending on these criteria. In the majority of cases, there are two main causes: tension headaches and migraines. But it is possible to have a headache for other reasons, more or less serious, which may require a consultation with your doctor or even the emergency room. Review of details with Dr. Gérald Kierzek, emergency physician and medical director of TipsForWomens.

Tension headache

“It’s a pain in the back of the head, which is linked to stress” explained Dr. Kierzek.To relieve it, you must release tension, massage the skull and take paracetamol. No need to consult, unless other signs of worsening appear, if the pain does not subside, for example..


Migraine is pain in the hemi-skull. It is pulsatile and lasts between 4 and 72 hours. We take anti-inflammatories to calm the pain and if the episodes multiply, we must consult a neurologist to begin basic treatment.” advises the doctor.

Cluster headache

It’s a half-face pain this time. It is a neurological disorder that causes shooting pain. Very often, it will not give way without medical intervention, so you must consult a doctor quickly.” details Dr. Kierzek.

Headache after excessive alcohol consumption

The cause of this headache is dehydration. It is caused by alcohol, so the only way to prevent it is to limit its consumption. The treatment will be good hydration and taking paracetamol. Beware of nausea and vomiting which may be associated. There is no need to consult a doctor.” indicate again Gérald Kierzek.

Headache linked to infection

In cases of sinusitis or the flu, for example, headache is often a symptom. “It is one of the general signs of an influenza or flu-like syndrome, with fever, chills, and deterioration in general condition. If this does not pass within 48 hours, especially the fever, you should consult, it is not a viral infection. This may be hiding a bacterial infection, for which antibiotics will be necessary.“.

Headache linked to hypertension

Hypertension can manifest itself as an acute headache. You can take your blood pressure to find out, because it is a sign of poor tolerance. You must also consult your doctor for appropriate care. If this headache is accompanied by shortness of breath or chest pain, you should go directly to the emergency room” advises the doctor.

Headaches related to the eyes

In certain eye conditions, the patient may suffer from a peri-orbital headache. “In this case, there are often also visual signs, such as a red eye, a reduction in visual acuity, etc. This can also be linked to a need for visual correction or poorly fitted glasses. In any case, it is better to consult a doctor.” estimates the medical director of TipsForWomens.

Horton’s disease

It is a pathology that more frequently affects women and the elderly. “This is an inflammation of the temporal artery, caused by vasculitis. The pain occurs when the scalp is touched. We speak of the “comb sign”, because it is often while combing their hair that patients discover the pain. You must consult urgently, because the patient requires a prescription for corticosteroids. It is often an associated sign of pseudo polyarthritis rheumatica (PMR), which is a chronic inflammatory rheumatism. explains Dr. Kierzek.

Stroke-related headache

In a stroke, the patient may have a severe, unusual headache. “This occurs in both types of stroke, whether due to thrombosis or hemorrhage.” details Dr. Kierzek. “You must act quickly and call 15. The other associated signs are paralysis of the face, numbness of a limb, difficulty expressing oneself… From that moment on, every second counts.”

Headache linked to meningitis

Faced with a patient who presents with a severe headache, with a stiff neck, a high fever, sometimes purpura (purple spots on the skin), we consider until proven otherwise that it is a meningeal syndrome. It’s an absolute emergency” concluded Dr. Kierzek.