Health conditions

Headache

Most headaches are not serious. However, sometimes, when associated with other signs and symptoms, headaches may be an indication of a serious underlying condition.

What can cause a headache?

Sometimes the exact cause of the headache may not be known, but most people can get relief from simple painkillers, such as paracetamol.

There are many causes of headache which can include:

  • tension and stress
  • injuries
  • eye problems
  • dental problems
  • hormonal changes
  • hangover
  • dehydration
  • tiredness
  • high blood pressure
  • sinus problems
  • poor posture
  • certain foods
  • disorders of the brain or nerves.

Signs and symptoms

Headaches fall into one of 3 categories:

  • tension
  • migraine
  • cluster.

Tension headaches are the most common cause of headache and feel like a tight band around the head.

Migraine headaches are a throbbing pain, possibly associated with:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • visual disturbances
  • numbness.

Cluster headaches strike in groups and are relatively uncommon, mainly affecting men.

Treatment

Headaches can generally be treated with the following:

  • drink plenty of water, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly
  • avoid food, drink and or drugs that may bring on a headache
  • maintain good posture
  • try to reduce stress – yoga, massage and meditation may be helpful
  • lie down in a quiet, darkened room
  • relax in a warm bath
  • see your optician for an eye test
  • use pain relief as directed.

Visit a GP if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • a headache that is severe or develops suddenly
  • persistent vomiting
  • associated neck stiffness, vomiting and the light hurts your eyes
  • numbness, tingling or weakness in face, arm or leg
  • confusion or unusual drowsiness
  • fit or seizure
  • loss of consciousness
  • slurred speech or difficulty swallowing
  • fever or rash.

See your GP if you find you are getting headaches regularly. Maintain a diary and detail your activities around the time the headache developed including the food you ate, time of day, sexual activity and where the headache was located.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Remember

  • Most headaches are not serious. However, sometimes, when associated with other signs and symptoms, headaches may be an indication of a serious underlying condition.
  • Sometimes the exact cause of the headache may not be known, but most people get relief from painkillers, such as paracetamol.
  • Headaches can usually be prevented by drinking plenty of water, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and reducing stress.

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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