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Causes of Bad Headaches

By James Patterson ; Updated August 14, 2017

More than just a routine headache in which you pop an aspirin and get through the day, a bad headache can be debilitating, causing you to retreat to a dark room away from light. They can even cause nausea or vomiting in some cases. Some bad headaches -- like migraines -- can strike without warning, while others like cluster headaches come like clockwork. Understanding the reason behind your bad headache will help you treat it.

Environmental Factors

One reason your headache could be severe is due to the fact that it’s a migraine headache triggered by certain environmental factors. According to MayoClinic.com, the exact source of migraines isn't known, but genetics and environmental factors both play a role. During a migraine, your serotonin levels drop, causing your body to release neuropeptides. Anxiety, stress and certain environmental factors can all contribute to a migraine headache, but triggers tend to differ from person to person. For example, stress from work or home may trigger a migraine in one person, while bright lights and loud noises trigger one in someone else.

Over Medicating

If you take pain medication too often, an overdependence on it may actually be the cause of more severe headaches called rebound headaches, according to MayoClinic.com. As your body becomes dependent on the medicine, an absence of it may cause your neck and scalp muscles to contract. Your doctor may suggest you completely stop taking pain relievers or scale back until you're taking them only a few times a week, according to MayoClinic.com.


Increased activity in the hypothalamus -- a part of your brain that acts as your body's biological clock -- may be a contributing factor to what is known as cluster headaches, according to MayoClinic.com. Unlike other types of headaches which tend to have environmental triggers, cluster headaches have a cyclical pattern. Increases in hormones such as melatonin or neurotransmitters like cortisol also contribute to cluster headaches. While there's no known cure for cluster headaches, increased oxygen or prescription medication may help ease the pain and frequency.

Brain Tumor

In very rare cases, a severe headache could be the result of a brain tumor. As the tumor expands within your brain cavity, it puts pressure on your brain, causing headaches and general discomfort. See your doctor if you experience severe headaches accompanied by seizures or bizarre and sudden changes in personality and behavior.


Another infrequent, yet serious cause of a severe headache could be a brain aneurysm. This condition is where a blood vessel within your brain weakens and is damaged, resulting in a rupture and leakage of blood into the brain. Other symptoms accompanying a headache during an aneurysm include low blood pressure, elevated heart rate and a feeling of lightheadedness. This is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

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