The Causes of Headaches and Migraines | Dr Chen Tai Ho

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Why Do I Get Headaches?

by | Jun 12, 2015

Hi everyone, I hope you have all had a fantastic week and are ready to enjoy the weekend ahead. For today’s topic, I want to talk about something that affects all of us – headaches. While the occasional headache is fairly common, what does it mean if you constantly get headaches? Is it simply a lack of sleep or too much time in front of a screen or are there other, more serious causes?
Potential Causes of Headaches
Trying to figure out what causes a headache is a tough job, since there are over 300 types of headaches that are known but doctors have only figured out what causes only 10% of them! The other 90% of headaches are labelled as primary headaches, and we will look at tension-type, migraine and cluster headaches.
Only 10% of headaches have known causes (pic from
Tension-type headaches
These headaches tend to cause a squeezing type of pain on the sides of the head, and can be described as a pain that is gripping your head. It may be caused by tiredness, emotional stress or issues that affect the muscles or joints of your jaw or neck. It may last anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours, but the good news is that it is fairly easy to treat.
Regular painkillers such as Panadol or aspirin can help alleviate the pain, but be sure to follow the instructions on the label. You can also take a shower or use a heating pad, or even eat a snack or take a nap – what works will vary from person to person.
You should also try to identify triggers that cause the headaches – perhaps get more sleep and avoid skipping meals? Whatever the cause is try to avoid it!
These are less common that tension-type headaches but are usually much more painful! It is thought that migraines occur when the brain’s nerve activity and blood flow changes, and come on when triggered. The trigger might vary from person to person, but it usually is the same trigger that causes the migraines. However, it is also possible that migraines can strike without any warning.
Migraines are less common, but can be severely painful! (pic from
Some of the most common triggers of migraines including the rising humidity or heat, not getting enough sleep, fatigue or stress, sensory triggers (flickering lights, loud noise etc), or dietary triggers such as skipping meals, alcohol or even chocolate!
Cluster headaches
These are very severe, but are quite uncommon. Most sufferers are middle-aged smokers or former smokers. The headaches tend to strike between 1-8 times daily for a period of 1-3 months every year or alternate year.
Some of the symptoms of cluster headaches (pic from
Severe pain always hits one side of the head, with the eye on that side becoming red and watery, while the eyelid may droop. Headaches may last for up to 1 hour, with patients unable to keep still and may become agitated.
Do note that you should also seek medical attention immediately if you have or experience:
  • New headaches after 50 years of age
  • Headaches that get worse quickly
  • A very severe “worst headache ever”
  • Significant changes in headache patterns
  • Headache pain that gets worse with movement or coughing
  • Headaches that alter your mental ability or personality
  • Headache after suffering head trauma
  • Headaches that stop you from doing everyday activities
  • Waking up with a severe headache




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