Migraines and other types of chronic headaches can have multiple causes, and because they’re recurrent, they can take a significant toll on a person’s overall quality of life and interfere with many daily activities. The most common causes of chronic headaches include injury, chronic stress, muscle damage or strain in the back or neck, disc problems in the back or neck, nerve-related issues and circulatory problems.
Migraines are chronic headaches associated with substantial pain and other symptoms including visual disturbances, nausea and increased sensitivity to light and sound. Although the specific causes of migraines have not been confirmed, research indicates both nerves and blood vessels play a role.
Tension headaches most commonly occur as a result of a combination of emotional stress and physical strain in the muscles in the back and neck. Research suggests many patients who have tension headaches may also have abnormal pain responses.
Cluster headaches are severe headaches that tend to occur in cycles, with several headaches occurring within a relatively short time frame followed by periods when no headaches occur. Like migraines, researchers aren’t sure what causes cluster headaches, but studies suggest abnormalities in the structure or function of the hypothalamus gland may play a role.
Treating any type of recurrent headache begins with a comprehensive physical exam, a careful review of symptoms, and a thorough medical history to look for potential risk factors. In some cases, blood work and diagnostic imaging may be ordered to confirm or rule out specific causes. Once the cause and type of headache have been determined, treatment can include: