Headaches are one of the most common adult health problems. Most are not serious but may occur again and again.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are sometimes described as feeling as if the head is in a vise or has a tight band around it. The discomfort is usually on both sides of the head. The neck, upper back and shoulder muscles may feel tense and tight, and the scalp may feel sensitive or painful. If the headache is severe, the person may feel nauseous or have no appetite. Tension headaches are sometimes related to contraction or spasm in the muscles of the head and neck.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are recurring, severe headaches that cause deep, stabbing pain, usually around the temple or eye. The headache often occurs with a stuffy or runny nose, tearing and redness in one eye and a droopy eyelid. It usually lasts about 30 to 60 minutes and then quickly goes away. The headaches often begin at night, right after the person has gone to sleep, but they can also occur at any time of day.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches usually affect only one side of the head and often occur with nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and/or sound. The headache pain is often described as throbbing or piercing and may range from mild to very severe. Although migraine headaches are usually one-sided, some people have headaches on both sides of the head. A migraine typically lasts four to 24 hours but can last up to three days. Some people have symptoms, such as visual disturbances, 15 to 30 minutes before a headache starts. This symptom is called an aura. Migraines are most common in girls and women between the ages of 15 and 44.


In addition to the headache, other symptoms, such as vomiting, dizziness or changes in vision, may also be present.


Although rare, headaches in adults or children may be a sign of a serious illness. Some serious illnesses or injuries that can cause headaches include:

  • Head injury (that damages the brain);
  • Brain tumors;
  • Infections, such as sinusitis, encephalitis (brain inflammation) and meningitis (brain and spinal cord infection);
  • Alcohol, caffeine or drug abuse;
  • Stroke;
  • Aneurysms (bulging in a blood vessel of the brain);
  • Other health conditions, such as high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), low blood calcium levels (hypocalcemia), kidney failure (uremia), glaucoma (nerve damage at the back of the eye), Lyme disease (bacterial infection spread by ticks) or inflammatory problems (lupus or temporal arthritis).


Most headaches are successfully treated with prescription or over-the-counter medicines. Patients have also experienced relief using stress management techniques, massage therapy and alternative medicine.

If your headache persists, please contact the Department of Neurology for an appointment.

For an appointment, a second opinion or more information, please call 1-800-CEDARS-1 (1-800-233-2771) or email us at neurologicaldisorders@cshs.org.