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Where Do Headaches Occur in the Brain?

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When you get a headache, you feel the pain is deep within. This is why most people believe that a headache occurs in the brain

Headache pain does not occur in the brain. Rather it occurs in the nerves, blood vessels, and muscles. The brain tells you that pain is occurring, but it does not feel pain. 

Types of headache

There are more than 150 different types of headaches. They can be categorized under two heads – primary headaches and secondary headaches.

Primary headaches are those that are not because of any other medical issue. Some common primary

  • Cluster headaches
  • Tension headaches
  • Migraine
  • NDPH or new daily persistent headache

A migraine headache is where you experience migraine attacks with symptoms like throbbing pain, nausea, experiencing visual disturbances (aura), sensitivity to light & sound, and vomiting. Chronic migraine can affect your daily activities and degrade quality of life

Tension headaches have pain that is constant and occurs due to stress. The pain is felt at the back of the head and the neck. It becomes worse when routine activities are done.

Cluster headache can be severe. They come in a cluster for 1 to 8 times a day. The cluster period during which the headaches last can be 2 weeks to 3 months.

Cluster headache pains are burning, throbbing, and can occur behind the eyes.

Most primary headaches can be treated through over the counter pain relievers or prescription medication.

Secondary headaches occur as a result of some medical condition. The headache may occur due to any of the reasons given below:

  • Injury to the head.
  • Brain tumours.
  • Hypertension.
  • Trauma.
  • Sinus congestion.
  • Infection.
  • Overuse of medications.
  • Leakage of spinal fluid through a puncture hole in the membrane surrounding the spinal cord (spinal headache).

What nerve causes headache?

Occipital neuralgia is a condition where the nerves that run through the scalp region (known as occipital nerves) are inflamed.

This leads to headaches that are throbbing and causes shooting pain in the back of the head, neck, and behind the ears.

The trigeminal nerve plays an important part in the nervous system. This nerve sends signals related to pain from the face to the brain.

Trigeminal neuralgia is a condition where nerve damage can cause facial pain. The pain is like getting an electric shock and intense in nature.

When should you get an MRI for a headache?

Secondary headaches are caused due to some other medical condition. To treat this headache it is important to pinpoint the exact cause of the headache.

To get an accurate diagnosis of the medical condition causing a headache, a CT scan or MRI scan is needed.

Apart from this, if you are having daily headaches or there are changes in your headache symptoms then the doctor may ask for an MRI scan.

The MRI scan will help the doctor to look at the head region and the brain in detail. It will help in finding out what is the problem that is causing the headache.

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When is a headache serious?

When you suffer from a severe headache and it occurs repeatedly, then it is a serious issue. If a headache is not relieved even after taking medication, then it could be a sign of some other problem.

You need to look out for warning signs like:

  • A headache that occurs every day.
  • Headaches not responding to treatment.
  • Migraine attacks increasing in intensity.
  • Getting a new headache with different symptoms.
  • Headaches accompanied by vision changes, weakness, confusion, loss of balance, or memory loss.

In case any of these symptoms are observed, one must immediately see a doctor.

It is possible to get effective treatment for a headache once its cause is diagnosed. The doctor would order diagnostic tests to find out the cause of the headache.

What causes a headache?

A secondary headache is caused by some other condition like infection, tumor, head injury, dental problems, meningitis, etc.

Primary headaches are caused by problems in the pain-sensitive areas of the head.

Migraine headaches are caused due to certain triggers like consuming alcohol, eating certain foods, stress, lack of sleep, certain smells, etc.

Tension-type headache are caused by stress. The stress affects the muscles of the head and neck causing pain.

A sinus infection can cause a headache that would cause pain the forehead and the area between the nasal cavities.

Some people may suffer from medication-overuse headaches that are a side effect of taking pain relieving medications.

Some people experience relief from headaches by drinking coffee. But for a few others, drinking coffee or anything with caffeine can cause a headache.

Allergies can also cause headaches. Exposure to allergens like smoke, pollen, dander, dust, etc. can cause allergy symptoms that include headache.

It is important to identify the cause of the headache and ensure avoidance of exposure to the cause.

What is the main cause of headaches?

The most common type of headache is tension headache. It is caused by stress. Anxiety and stress is a common problem and can lead to headaches.

Muscle contractions can occur in the muscles of the scalp and neck. This can cause pain.

Hypertension headache

If you have high blood pressure or hypertension, then you could experience a headache. This is known as hypertension headache.

Not all people who have hypertension get a headache. When the blood pressure levels become increasingly high, then a person may get a headache.

The headache occurs because of excess pressure of the blood on the brain. One should never neglect hypertension as it can lead to serious problems like a stroke, heart attack, or kidney problems.

When the underlying high blood pressure is treated, the headache would be resolved.

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FAQs relating to where headaches occur in the brain

The list of frequently asked questions and their answers given below will help you know more about headaches and where they occur in the brain.

What part of the brain is responsible for headache?

An interesting thing to note is that the brain itself does not feel any pain because it has no pain receptors. The brain tells the body that some parts are experiencing pain.

Headaches occur in the blood vessels, nerves, and in the muscles located in the neck and head region. These blood vessels and muscles can swell or tighten.

As a result, there is pressure on the nerves and they send a message to the brain. That sends a pain signal to the body resulting in the headache symptoms.

When it comes to migraine, some studies have suggested that regions in the hypothalamus of the brain are involved.

Where a headache is located means what?

The location of the head pain can give an indication of the type of headache.

  • Generally, a headache located at the side of the head could be a migraine or a cluster headache.
  • Pain at the back of the head or the neck is likely to be tension headache.
  • When pain is in the front of the head, it could be a migraine or a tension headache (forehead region).
  • Pain in the front of the head and the sinus cavities could be a sinus headache.
  • Pain behind one eye is likely to be a cluster headache.
  • Pain in the temple region is likely to be tension headache.

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What is happening in the brain during a headache?

During a headache, the pain occurs due to signals interacting among the nerves, blood vessels, and the brain.

When you experience headache symptoms there is a mechanism that is activating nerves connected to the blood vessels and muscles. 

It was earlier believed that changes in the blood flow cause the pain, but this has now been proved to be wrong. The headache happens due to chemical changes.

What are the 4 types of headache?

Of the various headache type, there are four common types. They are:

  1. Migraine headaches.
  2. Tension headaches.
  3. Sinus headaches.
  4. Cluster headaches.
  • Migraine sufferers experience neurological symptoms like severe and throbbing pain with sensitivity to light and sound. They may also see an aura and experience nausea as well as vomiting. The pain is located in the sides of the head (could be either sides or one side). A migraine attack can last for a few hours.
  • Tension headaches cause a dull pain like a band over the forehead. It also causes neck pain and pain at the back of the head. It can last for a few minutes or few hours.
  • Sinus headaches are located in the sinus cavities (face, forehead). It can be accompanied by congestion. The headache can last for many days.
  • Cluster headache cause severe pain on one side (usually near the eye). The headache can last for a very long, including many months. This can be followed by absence of headaches for many months.

Headaches must never be ignored, and you must not try to treat them with only OTC medication. It is advised to meet a doctor, so you can get the right treatment.

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