If you suffer from chronic daily headaches, you know how much they can affect your life. Chronic headaches make going about your daily activities agonizing, no matter what type of chronic headache you have. But what causes chronic headaches?
1. Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
The most common trigger of chronic headaches is stress, and stress can come from just about anything including:
- Major life changes such as a move, new job, marriage, or death in the family
- Deadlines at work, problems with the boss or a coworker, or loss of a promotion
- Unexpected car repair
- Paying bills
- Driving to and from work
- Arguing with a spouse or significant other
- Difficulty with children
Chronic stress can lead to other chronic conditions such as anxiety or depression, both of which can cause chronic daily headaches. Chronic stress can also cause tension in the muscles of the neck which can cause tension-type headaches.
2. The Overuse of Medication
Ironically, taking medication for chronic headaches can actually cause the recurrence of them. This type of headache is known as a rebound headache and is most often caused by taking certain medications daily to relieve headaches and then stopping them abruptly. Medications such as:
- Opiate painkillers like hydrocodone or tramadol
- Tricyclic antidepressants including Elavil (amitriptyline)
- Migraine medications called “triptans” including Sumatriptan or Rizatriptan (especially when taken for longer than 10 days)
- NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen or Naproxen Sodium
- Caffeine or combination medications containing caffeine including the prescriptions Cafergot (ergotamine/caffeine) and Fioricet (butalbital/acetaminophen/caffeine) as well as over-the-counter combination medicines like Excedrin Migraine (aspirin/acetaminophen/caffeine)
Medication overuse headaches are typically the result of using headache relief medications like the above for longer than 10 days. Treatment usually involved tapering the medication until it is discontinued, at which point the rebound headaches subside, and the normal headache pattern returns.
3. Problems Sleeping
Sleep is like the reset button for your brain. It “resets” the sodium-potassium pumps in the brain that generate action potentials which cause the neurons to fire. If you are suffering from insomnia, the reset is interrupted and can lead to headaches. People with sleep apnea are at greater risk of developing chronic headaches for this reason. Getting six hours or less of sleep per night also increases your risk for chronic headaches.
Obesity is becoming an epidemic in our country and is the cause of many chronic health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But it can also cause chronic daily headaches.
It’s not just the caffeine in medications that can cause chronic headaches. The caffeine in coffee, black tea, or soda can cause headaches as well. If you drink caffeine regularly or have several cups of coffee a day, you have an increased risk of developing chronic daily headaches.
6. Head Injury or Traumatic Brain Injury
While the skull is a hard shell that protects the brain, it is not impervious to injury. If hit too hard, the brain can bounce in the skull causing a concussion which can lead to chronic headaches. Any injury to the brain itself can also result in chronic headaches.
7. Traumatic Injury to the Cervical Spine
Many people who have been in a motor vehicle accident have a neck injury called whiplash. This type of injury can lead to compression of the cervical vertebrae and put pressure on the occipital nerves, causing a headache.
8. Blood Clots and Vascular Disease
Blood clots that form in or near the brain called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, or CVST, can also cause chronic headaches. These blood clots can cause increased intracranial pressure which in turn causes a headache that is constant and gets progressively worse as the pressure in the skull rises.
Other vascular diseases such as giant cell arteritis and severe arterial hypertension can also cause chronic headaches. But with vascular disease, the headaches typically get gradually and progressively worse. In some cases, however, people can develop a sudden excruciating headache called a thunderclap headache.
9. Infectious Diseases
Infectious diseases such as meningitis can increase intracranial, or spinal pressure can also be a cause of chronic daily headaches. These headaches tend to get gradually and progressively worse as the infection continues to spread. But like headaches caused by vascular disease, infections can cause thunderclap headaches instead of chronic ones.
Neuralgia is an intermittent pain that runs along a nerve. The two most common neuralgias are trigeminal and occipital neuralgia, both of which can cause chronic headaches. Herpetic neuralgia can also cause headaches because it typically affects the trigeminal nerve of the face.
Chronic headache causes can be difficult to diagnose. If you are suffering from headaches, contact the experts at the National Headache Institute. We have three convenient locations.