June 21, 2023

What Causes Chronic Headaches?

what causes chronic headaches

Most people get headaches periodically. But if you have that familiar pain frequently or even daily, you may have what’s called chronic headaches. This term doesn’t denote a particular type of headache. It refers to a frequency of 15 or more headaches not attributable to another cause monthly for over three months. What causes chronic headaches, and what can you do about them? This article answers essential questions about this condition.

Headache vs. Migraine

In talking about headaches, it’s important to distinguish between them and migraines. Migraines are more than just intense headaches. They can be so painful that they’re debilitating and involve other symptoms like sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells, nausea, dizziness, and extreme fatigue. While people can have chronic migraines, that condition isn’t the focus of this article.

What Causes Chronic Headaches?

Headaches, in general, aren’t well-understood. So-called true (or primary) chronic daily headaches don’t have a known underlying cause. This is compared to nonprimary chronic headaches, which can have causes like brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries, blood vessel problems, infections, etc. Sometimes, a person’s primary chronic headaches may be associated with medication overuse. This can occur in people with episodic (occasional) headaches who take medication to manage them and the “rebound” headaches that can accompany them. Over time, the headaches become chronic. Some factors increase your risk of developing chronic headaches, including:

  • Being female
  • Being obese
  • Snoring
  • Having anxiety or depression
  • Having sleep problems
  • Consuming excessive amounts of caffeine
  • Having chronic pain in other body areas

And not surprisingly, experiencing chronic headaches can cause physical and psychological problems, including many listed above.

How to Get Rid of Chronic Headaches

If you suffer from chronic headaches, the first thing to do is contact your Baptist Health primary care physician. They can diagnose your condition and develop a treatment plan. If they can find an underlying condition causing your chronic headaches, the first step will be addressing it. If there isn’t one or treating it doesn’t eliminate your headaches, the next step is typically medication. This can include drugs like:

  • Beta-blockers. These medications are primarily used to treat high blood pressure or episodic headaches. However, they can be effective in reducing or eliminating chronic headaches.
  • Antidepressants. These drugs help with headaches and depression, anxiety, and sleep problems that are common with chronic headaches.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Patients often use medications like naproxen sodium as they reduce their use of other pain-relieving drugs.
  • Botulism toxin (Botox). Doctors sometimes prescribe this medication, especially for people whose headaches have characteristics of chronic migraines.

Doctors like to prescribe one drug when possible but may sometimes use combination therapy.

Talking with a counselor and joining a support group can also be helpful. Connecting with compassionate people who understand what you’re going through can relieve some of your stress and frustration. And experiencing less stress may positively impact the frequency or intensity of your headaches.

Other Treatments for Chronic Headaches

Some people find they get relief from alternative medicine therapies. These include biofeedback, massage, vitamins and minerals, herbs, and biofeedback. Alternative medicine therapies aren’t as well-researched as traditional interventions. Consequently, it’s important to talk with your doctor about them.

Tips for Preventing Chronic Headaches

Each person’s experience with chronic headaches is unique, but many find they can reduce the likelihood of getting a headache by taking some or all the following actions:

  • Reducing stress
  • Avoiding known headache triggers
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Gradually reducing caffeine intake
  • Eating a healthy diet and not skipping meals
  • Avoiding medication overuse

Get Help with Chronic Headaches From Baptist Health

Chronic headaches are unpleasant and can diminish your quality of life. If you experience 15 or more headaches monthly or take over-the-counter medications regularly to suppress headache pain, you should talk with your Baptist Health primary care doctor. They can work with our neurology specialists to diagnose your condition using various tools, including imaging tests like CT or MRI scans. Then, they can develop a plan to reduce the number of headaches you experience, if possible, and treat those that occur effectively.

Learn More.