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headache symptoms: important things to know.

headache symptoms: important things to know.

If you experience an occasional headache, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that up to 75% of adults worldwide had a headache in the past year.1 Head pain can result from any number of causes and come in many different varieties, including tension headaches, migraine headaches, and caffeine headaches.

Headaches can be debilitating, especially if you are getting them often. Head pain is one of the most common conditions MDLIVE board-certified doctors care for every year.

Dr. Cynthia E. Collins, MDLIVE Clinical Medical Director, talks us through the facts about head pain, symptoms, and treatments. If you’re having frequent headaches or migraines, talk to an MDLIVE doctor in minutes to feel better faster.

What causes a headache?

While it may feel like it, a headache has nothing to do with your brain. Your brain tissue has no nerve fibers and doesn’t ‘feel’ pain. A headache is pain in the head or face area, the nerves that run over your scalp, or blood vessels at the base of your brain. Headaches can be hereditary, especially migraines, or can be caused by common triggers such as alcohol use, change in eating or sleeping patterns, depression, dehydration, muscle strain, weather changes, and eye, dental or jaw problems.

There are generally two kinds of headaches – primary and secondary. Primary headaches are head pain not triggered by other issues with your body. Secondary headaches are pain derived from one or more other health issues, including allergies, lack of caffeine or too much caffeine, hypertension, infection, illness, or injury. Cold food or drinks can also cause a headache called “brain freeze,” which is not serious and goes away quickly.

Primary Headaches


  • Tension Headache

  • Migraine Headache

  • Cluster Headache


  • Stress, anxiety

  • Genetics, hormones, stress. Learn more about migraine headaches here

  • Cause unknown

Secondary Headaches


  • Sinus Headache

  • Caffeine Headache

  • Hormonal Headache


  • Sinus infections, colds, and allergies

  • Too much caffeine, withdrawal from caffeine

  • A quick drop in estrogen levels right before menstruation

Some surprising causes of headaches

While there are many common triggers for headaches, keep an eye out for some of the more uncommon causes:

Common symptoms of a headache include:

The symptoms and head pain accompanying a headache will vary, depending on what type of headache you have. Some headaches hurt on both sides of your head, and others focus on one area. COVID headaches present as whole-head pressure and are one of the first symptoms of COVID that people can have. Pain can range from mild to severe and cause other symptoms throughout the body: 2

  • Throbbing pain

  • Neck and shoulder pain

  • Upset stomach

  • Sharp, intense pain

  • Eye pain or sensitivity

  • Nausea

Dr. Collins’ perspective

“Don’t take chances with head pain. If you have a headache that is debilitating or disrupts your daily routine, it’s always a good idea to speak with a doctor. It could resolve with a simple treatment or be a symptom of a more serious illness. Getting medical help quickly can help discover potential causes and get the right treatment to heal the headache so you can have productive days without reoccurrences.”

Different types of headaches.

Where you are feeling the pain can help you determine which kind of headache you have:

  • Tension Headache

  • Sinus Headache

  • Migraine Headache

  • Caffeine Headache

  • Cluster Headache

  • Hormonal Headache

What Treatments are Available for Headaches?

Depending on your headache type, a board-certified MDLIVE doctor can determine what type of prescription or over-the-counter medication is best for your headache. They can also suggest possible steps you can take at home to alleviate symptoms.

Prescription and over the counter medications: 3

  • Various prescription medications

  • Acetaminophen

  • Ibuprofen

  • Aspirin

  • Naproxen sodium

At-home treatments you can try:

  • Apply a hot or cold compress to your head

  • Rest in a cool, dark room

  • Meditation / Relaxation exercises

  • Massage

  • A small amount of caffeine

Lifestyle changes that can help reduce/prevent headaches:

  • Drink lots of water

  • Get light to moderate exercise for 30 minutes each day

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep each night

  • Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast

Is stress causing your headaches?

Stress causes a great majority of headaches. If you feel stressed, angry, or need support, you can have your first therapy appointment with an MDLIVE licensed therapist in as little as one week. Here is Dr. Collins’ advice on letting your anger go.

Dr. Collins’ perspective

“If a cold or sinus infection is causing your headache, speak with an MDLIVE doctor to ease your symptoms and get the right type of treatment. Frequent tension headaches can be caused by stress or not getting enough sleep. This is how to get more sleep.

How can you get help without going to a doctor’s office?

If severe or frequent headaches affect your normal routine, have an appointment with an MDLIVE board-certified doctor by phone or video in minutes. With reliable 24/7 care, MDLIVE can help ease your headache symptoms and help you feel better faster.*

Andres Gomez