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Understanding Headache Pain

Headache pain can start in different structures in the head. The brain itself doesn't hurt, but other parts of the head do. Headache is a common symptom of illness, such as a cold or the flu. At other times, headaches occur without seeming to be connected to any illness. These are known as primary headaches. Examples of primary headaches include migraine and tension headaches. Very rarely are headaches a sign of a serious medical problem.

View of side of head slightly from top showing headache causes. Muscles in neck and head become tight or tense. Blood vessels become dilated (enlarged) or constricted. Muscles around eyes become strained due to overwork or poor vision correction. Sinuses become swollen due to allergies, colds, or infections. Teeth are decayed or damaged. Nerves transmit abnormal pain signals. Joints in jaw and neck are overused or become damaged.

What Is Referred Pain?

Referred pain has its source in one place but is felt in another. For example, pain behind the eyes may actually be caused by tense muscles in the neck and shoulders. This means that the place that hurts may not be the part of the head that needs treatment.

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 9/27/2013
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