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Headache Basics

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What Are the Types of Headaches? continued...

Acute headaches: Seen in children, these are headaches that occur suddenly and for the first time and have symptoms that subside after a relatively short period of time. Acute headaches most commonly result in a visit to the pediatrician's office and/or the emergency room. If there are no neurological signs or symptoms, the most common cause for acute headaches in children and adolescents is a respiratory or sinus infection.

Hormone headaches: Headaches in women are often associated with changing hormone levels that occur during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Chemically induced hormone changes, such as with birth control pills, also trigger headaches in some women.

Chronic progressive headaches: Also called traction or inflammatory headaches, chronic progressive headaches get worse and happen more often over time. These are the least common type of headache, accounting for less than 5% of all headaches in adults and less than 2% of all headaches in kids. Chronic progressive headaches may be the result of an illness or disorder of the brain or skull.

Are Headaches Hereditary?

Yes, headaches, especially migraines, have a tendency to run in families. Most children and adolescents (90%) who have migraines have other family members with migraines. When both parents have a history of migraines, there is a 70% chance that the child will also develop migraines. If only one parent has a history of migraines, the risk drops to 25%-50%.

What Causes Headaches?

Headache pain results from signals interacting between the brain, blood vessels, and surrounding nerves. During a headache, specific nerves of the blood vessels and head muscles are activated and send pain signals to the brain. It's not clear, however, why these signals are activated in the first place.

Headaches that occur suddenly (acute-onset) are usually due to an illness, infection, cold, or fever. Other conditions that can cause an acute headache include sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses), pharyngitis (inflammation or infection of the throat), or otitis (ear infection or inflammation).

In some cases, the headaches may be the result of a blow to the head (trauma) or rarely, a sign of a more serious medical condition.

Common causes of tension headaches or chronic nonprogressive headaches include emotional stress related to family and friends, work, or school; alcohol use; skipping meals; changes in sleep patterns; excessive medication use; tension and depression. Other causes of tension headaches include eyestrain and neck or back strain due to poor posture.

Headaches can also be triggered by specific environmental factors that are shared in a family's household, such as exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, strong odors from household chemicals or perfumes, exposure to certain allergens, or eating certain foods. Stress, pollution, noise, lighting, and weather changes are other environmental factors that can trigger headaches for some people.

Too much physical activity can also trigger a migraine in both adults and children.

Be sure to consult a doctor to find out what is causing your headaches.

WebMD Medical Reference

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