Headache

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Author: Danette C. Taylor, DO, MS, FACN
    Danette C. Taylor, DO, MS, FACN

    Dr. Taylor has a passion for treating patients as individuals. In practice since 1994, she has a wide range of experience in treating patients with many types of movement disorders and dementias. In addition to patient care, she is actively involved in the training of residents and medical students, and has been both primary and secondary investigator in numerous research studies through the years. She is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine (Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology). She graduated with a BS degree from Alma College, and an MS (biomechanics) from Michigan State University. She received her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Her internship and residency were completed at Botsford General Hospital. Additionally, she completed a fellowship in movement disorders with Dr. Peter LeWitt. She has been named a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychiatrists. She is board-certified in neurology by the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. She has authored several articles and lectured extensively; she continues to write questions for two national medical boards. Dr. Taylor is a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council (MSAC) of the Alzheimer's Association of Michigan, and is a reviewer for the journal Clinical Neuropharmacology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

View the Headache and Migraine Triggers Slideshow

Quick GuideMigraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

Migraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

What diseases cause secondary headaches?

Headache is a symptom associated with many illnesses. While head pain itself is the issue with primary headaches, secondary headaches are due to an underlying disease or injury that needs to be diagnosed and treated. Controlling the headache symptom will need to occur at the same time that diagnostic testing is performed to identify the underlying disease. Some of the causes of secondary headache may be potentially life-threatening and deadly. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential if damage is to be limited.

The International Headache Society lists eight categories of secondary headache. A few examples in each category are noted (This is not a complete list.).

Head and neck trauma

  • Injuries to the head may cause bleeding in the spaces between the meninges, the layers of tissue that surround the brain (subdural, epidural, and subarachnoid spaces) or within the brain tissue itself (intracerebral hemorrhage: intra=within + cerebral=brain, hemorrhage=bleeding).
  • Edema or swelling within the brain, not associated with bleeding, may cause pain and a change in mental function.
  • Concussions, where head injury occurs without bleeding. Headache is one of the hallmarks of post-concussion syndrome.
  • Whiplash and neck injury also cause head pain.

Blood vessel problems in the head and neck

  • Stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).
  • Arteriovenous malformations (AVM) when they leak.
  • Cerebral aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. An aneurysm, or a weakened area in a blood vessel wall, can expand and leak a small amount of blood causing what is called a sentinel headache. This may be a warning sign of a future catastrophic bleed into the brain.
  • Carotid artery inflammation
  • Temporal arteritis (inflammation of the temporal artery)

Non-blood vessel problems of the brain

Medications and drugs (including withdrawal from those drugs)

Oral contraceptives, medications used to treat erectile dysfunction, blood pressure or other cardiac medications can all lead to or cause headaches. Medication overuse headache, occurring when pain medications are taken too frequently, can be caused by acetaminophen (Tylenol and others), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and others), OTC analgesics with caffeine (Excedrin®, etc.), as well as narcotic analgesics and other prescription pain medications.

Infection

Changes in the body's environment

Problems with the eyes, ears, nose throat, teeth, sinuses, and neck

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/25/2016

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