A headache is a pain in your head, which can be anywhere from your skull to your neck. It can last from a few minutes to several days and can affect your daily life, although it’s rarely a sign of anything serious.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021


Headaches can affect anyone of any age and are very common. Over 10 million people in the UK regularly have headaches.

In most cases, a headache will go away on its own or with simple home remedies.

Causes of headache

If your head is aching and you feel as though there’s a tight band around your skull or across your forehead then you may have a tension headache. A tension headache is the most common type of headache and can be triggered by:

  • Tiredness or stress
  • Deteriorating eyesight
  • Bad posture
  • Dehydration, skipping meals or drinking too much alcohol
  • Common illnesses such as cold or flu
  • Hormones – some women often have headaches during their period or while going through the menopause

If you have a severe, throbbing pain on one side of your head, you may have a migraine – migraines can also be accompanied with blurred vision, nausea and photosensitivity.

Pain at the front of your head accompanied by a painful face, ears and teeth, is a sinus headache. A sinus headache often intensifies when you bend over and is caused by an infection in your sinus glands (sinusitis).

Cluster headaches cause sudden, intense pain around one of your eyes or one side of your temple. They happen in bouts, each lasting for between two and 12 weeks. Cluster headaches are rare and don’t respond to over-the-counter pain relief.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Book an appointment

Conditions related to headache

In most cases, a headache is nothing to worry about. However, very occasionally, a headache is a symptom of an underlying condition, such as:

  • Dental problems
  • Trigeminal neuralgia – a rare condition causing extreme facial pain
  • Circulatory or brain problems, such as a stroke, blood clot or aneurysm
  • Brain infections such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Brain tumour

Getting a diagnosis for headache

If you suddenly have an extremely painful headache or are seriously concerned about a headache, seek medical attention urgently.

If you regularly have headaches which affect your daily life, see your GP. They'll discuss your headaches and any other symptoms with you, as well as your general health.

Your GP will explain what causes headaches and may advise you about lifestyle changes to ease your headaches. Your GP may prescribe medication and may refer you for further investigations to check for an underlying reason for your headache.

Treatments for headache

You can help prevent headaches, including a tension headache or migraine, by:

  • Drinking lots of water and eating regular, balanced meals
  • Being active, ideally outdoors
  • Walking, standing and sitting correctly
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Taking time to relax

To ease the pain of a headache, including a tension headache or migraine, try:

  • Drinking lots of water
  • Resting
  • Taking over-the-counter pain relief such as ibuprofen and paracetamol

If you’re having regular, severe headaches, your GP may prescribe pain relief or other medication.