Headaches are very common. For example, it may be due to stress, tense muscles, colds, anxiety or visual impairment. Usually, the headache goes away by itself, but sometimes it can sit for a long time or come more often. Although uncommon, headaches can be symptoms of a serious illness.

This text is about headaches in adults. You can also read Headaches in children and teens.

Different types of headaches

Headaches can be divided into the following categories:

  • tension headache
  • migraine
  • another headache
  • headache in case of illness
  • headache in mental illness
  • headaches for bite pain and jaw pain
  • headache caused by drugs.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are often dull, grinding or pressing. It can be felt as a band or print around the head. Often the pain in both sides of the head is felt. Tension headaches are usually relieved by moving yourself, unlike migraine headaches. For example, tension headaches can be triggered by stress, anxiety or having a posture that is strenuous for the body.  


In migraine headaches come quite quickly, like a seizure. The headache is intense and is felt in one or both halves of the head. The attacks are recurring. It is common to feel ill at the same time and to become extra sensitive to sound and light. The pain is aggravated by physical activity and when you move your head. Migraine often comes in connection with stress and in connection with hormone fluctuations during the menstrual cycle. Some foods can trigger migraines in some people.

Other headaches

Headaches can be triggered for many reasons. For example, it is common to get headaches when you exert a lot of effort, such as during heavy lifting. The pain usually disappears after a few hours, but continue up to a day. Intense and sudden headaches associated with exertion may mean that you have had a brain hemorrhage, but it is very uncommon.

The following conditions can also trigger headaches:

  • You have vision problems.
  • You’ve been drinking a lot of alcohol.
  • You have a fluid deficiency.
  • You stop drinking coffee or drink less coffee than you usually do in a few days.
  • You get cold about the head.
  • You have had a significant increase in blood pressure.
  • You have withdrawal after you have stopped taking drugs, alcohol, nicotine or drugs.

Headache in sickness

You can get headaches when you have the flu, cold or any of many other infections caused by viruses or bacteria.

Headaches can be present as one of several symptoms of the following diseases:


In the case of sinusitis, you get headaches and at the same time have a thick, greenish-yellow snout. The headache sits in the cheek, forehead or neck and gets worse if you move your head quickly or lean forward.

Horton’s headache

At Horton’s headache, you have periods of attack of pain on one side of the head. The pain can feel like an unbearable, bursting or cutting pain that is in or around the eye. The attacks occur regularly for a certain time of day, often at night.

Brain bleeding after a blow to the head

A blow to the head can cause bleeding on or below the brain’s membranes. It is not always noticeable by getting headaches, but often by other symptoms such as tiredness or being difficult to get in touch with.

Cerebral hemorrhage

Brain bleeding can cause headaches that come very suddenly and quickly become more intense. The pain is often pulsating and often radiates to the neck, back, or sometimes to the legs.
Cerebral hemorrhage can occur in, for example,  pulmonary artery hernia.

Inflammation of the carotid artery

Temporal artery disease, or inflammation of the temporal artery, is a rheumatic disease. It can affect vision if it is not treated in time. You become sore and swollen at one tempest, at the same time as you become increasingly tired and often get a fever. A common symptom is also that it hurts when you chew.


For meningitis, you have headaches that increase for a few hours up to a day. At the same time, you feel dizzy, often have a high fever and have difficulty bending your head forward. Sometimes blue-red dots due to small bleeding can be seen on the skin.

Brain tumor

A brain tumor can cause headaches, but at the same time, you get other symptoms of the tumor. It is very rare for brain tumors to cause headaches as the only symptoms.

Headache in mental illness

It is common for those with mental illness to get headaches. This is especially true when stress is part of your mental illness. This is usually the case with tension headaches.

Headaches for bite pain and jaw pain

Headaches can be due to the fact that you grit your teeth during the night and that your jaw muscles are tense. You often wake up with headaches and soreness in the jaw muscles and sometimes pain in the jaws. The most common cause is that you are stressed, but it can also be partially caused by your bite. You should visit a dentist and be examined for recommended treatment. A stain rail can often alleviate the hassle. You can also get help with relaxation exercises.

Headache caused by drugs

You may also get headaches for some medicines. For example, you may get chronic headaches if you take medicines for headaches more than fifteen days a month. Often this type of headache is dull and scattered throughout the head. Sometimes you have ringing sounds in your ears at the same time. There are also many other medicines that can cause your headache as a side effect, such as nitroglycerin. The headache is then usually due to the drug affecting the blood vessels.

When and where should I seek care?

The vast majority of people who get headaches do not need to seek care because the problems often go away on their own. But sometimes you may need to seek care, for example, if the headaches are severe or prolonged.

Contact a health care provider if you have any of the following:

  • You previously had a headache but it has now changed the character
  • You have had daily headaches for more than a week.
  • You use medicines for headaches several times a week.
  • You have headaches that increase and become stronger and come more often.
  • You have a headache, are over 50 and have not had a headache before.
  • You have headaches that interfere with everyday life.

If it is a weekend, you can wait until it is every day. You can contact many receptions by logging in.

If it’s in a hurry

If you have one or more of the following problems, please contact a health care center or an on-call reception immediately :

  • You have had a blow to the head and after that have had a headache and feel lethargic.
  • You suddenly have an intense headache.
  • You have a headache while you have a fever and are stiff in the neck.

If it is closed at the health center or on-call reception, seek care at an emergency room.

What can I do for myself?

There are several things you can do yourself to relieve and reduce the risk of getting headaches.

Write down when the trouble comes in a headache diary

In the case of recurrent headaches, it is good if you get to know situations that can contribute to headaches. Then you can eventually learn how to prevent headaches. One way to learn to understand the causes of your headache may be to write a so-called headache diary. Here you can download headache diaries at mainvarksförbundet.se . There you write when and how often the headache comes and how it feels. Also, write what relieves or aggravates the pain. It is also important that you write down all the medicines you take for the pain.

Reduce stress and practice relaxation

Sometimes headaches can be caused by anxiety and stress. Then it is good if you try to reduce the stress in your life. Many people who have headaches often have tense muscles. You may not be aware that you are tightening the muscles of the jaw, neck, and shoulders, for example.

In order for the problems to improve, it is important that you learn to relax. Relaxation exercises and exercises in mindfulness can be helpful. Different people relax using different methods. Some people become relaxed by, for example, yoga or massage. Others are helped by long walks and getting out into the fresh air.

Sometimes it can be good to rest from too much impression. You should also make sure that you drink enough water.

Physical exercise, good posture, and sleep

The muscles can become stiff if you have been tense in your body for a long time. You can reduce the risk of stiff muscles and strengthen neck and back muscles through physical activity. Physical activity increases blood circulation and relieves certain types of headaches. Physical activity can also improve posture so that the neck is relieved.

You who have a sedentary job should vary your posture and try to put in small breaks. Remember to always have good lighting when working and reading. Do an eye exam and get glasses if you look bad. It may be particularly important to take breaks frequently if you are working or sitting in front of a computer screen.

Also, try to have regular sleep habits and make sure you get enough sleep. 

Read more about how you can get help with sleeping difficulties.

Prescription-free drugs

You can relieve headaches in infections, tension headaches, and migraines and with the help of prescription and pain-relieving medicines. Examples are drugs containing paracetamol and drugs belonging to the NSAID group, or cox inhibitors.

Here you can read about which prescription drugs are available and which may be right for you.

These drugs only provide temporary help. Therefore, they should not be used for an extended period or too often. Use these drugs at most 2-3 times a week, as they can also aggravate headaches.


At a doctor’s visit, it is good if you can tell as much as possible about the pain. You can usually answer the following questions:

  • When did you have headaches in recent times? Enter the time of day and weekday if you can.
  • Do you have two types of headaches? So both migraine and tension headaches?
  • Did the pain come suddenly, like a seizure, or did it come slowly?
  • How long did the pain last and how intensely did it feel?
  • Where in the head did the pain feel?
  • Have the headaches changed?
  • Have you had a fever or other symptoms at the same time with the headaches?
  • Do you use medicines for headaches? Does it help? How often do you usually use this medicine?
  • Are there other things that relieve or aggravate the pain, for example, certain activities, situations or certain food, drink, fatigue, stress or anxiety?

After the call, your blood pressure is measured and the doctor does a thorough examination of the body. What is being investigated is the upper back, especially the neck, neck muscles, jaw muscles, nasal sinuses, eyes, heart and lymph nodes. Sometimes you can also submit samples.

Treatment of headache

For mild headaches, prescription drugs often help. In case of more severe pain, you can sometimes get prescription drugs. You who have migraines can get preventative drugs.

Sometimes the drugs do not provide adequate help. Then you may need to try another treatment, such as physiotherapy treatment, ie physiotherapy. You can also get treatment with psychological methods. Such treatment can be especially good for those who have had a long-term headache that often comes, ie several times a week. 

Treatment with physiotherapy

Treatment with physiotherapy can be good if the headaches are caused by the muscles being tight in the head or neck. For example, it may depend on how you sit or hold your head. The purpose of the treatment is then that you should improve your body consciousness, often combined with physical exercise.

Relaxation training often has a good effect

Relaxation training often provides good help to relieve the pain of both migraine and tension headaches. It aims to teach you how to reduce the experience of stress and headaches. This is done by practicing a method that provides quick relaxation when the headaches begin to feel. The method that should be given by a psychologist has been shown to reduce the strength of the pain and how often the headaches come. It has also been shown that the improvement continues after completion of treatment.

Treatment with KBT

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (KBT) in headaches can help you reduce negative thought patterns in headaches. This can, for example, apply to so-called disaster thoughts, such as “now the headaches are coming again and I can’t do anything about it”.

With KBT you are supported in being able to keep your usual activities in everyday life as much as possible.

Self-help on the internet

There are also self-help programs for headaches on the internet. These programs are usually based on psychological methods that have proven to be of good help in traditional therapy by a therapist, such as relaxation training and KBT. You buy and follow a program through the computer. This means that you are active yourself and follow the program for a certain period, usually a few months. The result is often best if you also have contact with a psychologist with knowledge about self-help programs. The psychologist can then support and help when problems arise during treatment.

Important with medical examination before treatment

Before you begin treatment with a physiotherapist, psychologist or the Internet, it is important that a doctor first perform an examination. It is to rule out that a physical illness causes headaches.

Influence and participate in your care

You can seek care at any medical center or open specialist clinic you want throughout the country. Sometimes a referral  to the open specialist care is required.

You should understand the information

In order for you to be involved in your care and treatment, it is important that you understand the information you receive from the healthcare staff. Ask questions if you don’t understand. For example, you should receive information about treatment options and how long you may have to wait for care and treatment.

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