Back to blog

What’s Happening to Your Body When You Have a Headache?

body oddmigraineheadachesHealth & Wellness • 3 min read • May 22, 2015 12:00:00 AM • Written by: Kat Smith


Headaches can seem somewhat mysterious, appearing out of nowhere and causing pain that might disrupt your whole day. While headaches can be unpredictable, becoming familiar with your symptoms and the right treatments can help you reduce the distraction that might come with the average headache.

Types of Headaches

Doctors are still not entirely sure what causes all headaches, but it is clear that there are many types of headaches that affect the brain and body in different ways. Here’s a look at a handful of the most common headaches you might encounter in your daily life.

• Tension headaches – Tension headaches are very common, and they tend to appear somewhat randomly and only occasionally. The likely cause of tension headaches is muscle tension in the neck and along the scalp that restricts blood flow in certain areas. Your brain itself does not feel any pain, as there are no pain-sensitive nerves in the brain tissue. It is the craniofacial and neck muscles outside of the cranium that are sensing pain and sending signals to the brain that your head hurts.

• Migraines – Migraines can cause more severe headaches that occur over and over again, often due to triggers like certain types of food, stress, or alcohol. Migraines are associated with the nerve responsible for sensations in the face, which sends hypersensitive pain signals to the meninges, or the thin sheath of tissue surrounding the brain. Activity will often worsen the pain of a migraine, which might also have sensory symptoms like sensitivity to light and sound.

• Cluster headaches – A rarer type of headache that causes some of the most severe pain in certain people, cluster headaches tend to isolate pain to one side of the face along with watery eyes or nasal congestion, which may also be limited to one side. The exact cause of cluster headaches is unknown, though there appears to be a genetic factor.

• Sinus headaches – You might have an uptick in the frequency of headaches when allergies act up or you have a respiratory infection if you regularly suffer from sinus headaches. A sinus headache is the result of excess pressure in the sinuses caused by congestion, which may be relieved with a nasal spray or antihistamine, depending on its cause.

• Hangover headaches – If you have ever overindulged in alcoholic beverages, you know that the next morning can be rough. The throbbing headache common to hangovers is the result of over-activity in the brain’s motor pathways and the chemical imbalances in the brain that are caused by ethanol.

Secondary Symptoms

Migraines are particularly likely to cause secondary symptoms like nausea and sensitivity to loud noises or pungent smells, though other headaches can have these effects too—especially if you take over-the-counter medication. A frequent side effect of these medications is stomach upset, and overusing these drugs can lead to liver problems as well. Finally, you may have some trouble focusing due to the influx of pain signals in your brain, which will dedicate more attention to those signals than it will give to cognitive tasks.

When Headaches Require Medical Attention

If you have recurring headaches, it is best to talk to a doctor to discuss your specific symptoms and get an accurate diagnosis. You should seek emergency medical attention if a headache is sudden and causes very severe or debilitating pain.

With the convenience of MeMD, you can seek a doctor’s care for your headache without leaving the comfortable surroundings of home.

Reach the World. Giving Made Easy with Impact.

Kat Smith