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Headaches are one of the most common health complaints, but most aren't serious and are easily treated.

In many cases, you can treat your headaches at home with over-the-counter painkillers and lifestyle changes, such as getting more rest and drinking enough fluids.

However, it's a good idea to see your GP if your headaches aren't relieved byover-the-counter treatments, or if they'reso painful or frequent that they affect your daily activities or arecausing you to miss work.

This page covers:

Tension headaches


Cluster headaches

Medication and painkiller headaches

Hormone headaches

Other causes of headaches

Signs of aserious problem

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and are what we think of as normal, "everyday" headaches. They feel like a constant ache that affects both sides of the head, as though a tight band is stretched around it.

A tension headache normally won't be severe enough to prevent you doing everyday activities. They usually last for 30 minutes to several hours, but can last for several days.

The exact cause is unclear, but tension headaches have been linked to things such as stress, poor posture, skipping meals and Dehydration .

Tension headaches can usually be treated withordinarypainkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen . Lifestyle changes, such as getting regular sleep, reducing stress and staying well hydrated, may also help.

Some people also have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound.

Migraines tend to be more severe than tension headaches and can stop you carrying out your normal daily activities. They usually last at least a couple of hours, and some people find they need to stay in bed for days at a time.

Most people can treat their migraines successfully with over-the-counter medication. But if they're severe, you may need stronger medication that's only available on prescription. This may be able to relieve and preventyour migraines.

Frequent headaches can also be caused by taking too many painkillers. This is known as a painkiller or medication-overuse headache.

A medication-overuse headache will usuallyget betterwithin a few weeks once you stop taking the painkillers that are causing it, although your pain may get worse for a few days before it starts to improve.


Hormone headaches

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

Reducing your stress levels, having a regular sleeping pattern, and ensuring you don't miss meals may help reduce headaches associated with your menstrual cycle.

But, rarely, it can be a symptom of a condition such as a stroke , meningitis , or a brain tumour .

A headache is more likely to be serious if:

  • it occurs suddenly and is very severeoften described as a blinding pain unlike anything experienced before
  • it doesn't go away and gets worse over time
  • it occurs after a severe head injury
  • it's triggered suddenly by coughing, laughing, sneezing,changes in posture, or physical exertion
  • you have symptoms suggesting a problem with your brain or nervous system, including weakness,slurred speech, confusion, memory loss , and drowsiness
  • you have additional symptoms, such as a high temperature (fever), a stiff neck , a rash, jaw pain while chewing, vision problems, a sore scalp, or severe pain and redness in one of your eyes

If you're concerned that your headache might be serious, you should seek immediate medical advice.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 28 Nov 2016