What causes headaches?

The exact cause of most headaches is largely unknown. Much of the research that takes place at Swedish Pain Services is focused on discovering the underlying reasons and mechanisms.

It is known that headaches usually run in families, especially some types of migraines. They can be brought on by environmental factors, such as:

  • Strong odors like cigarette smoke or perfume
  • Specific food or drink
  • Skipping meals, or low blood sugar
  • Stress
  • Pollution
  • Noise
  • Lighting
  • Weather changes
  • Increased use or overuse of certain drugs, with the headaches occurring when you taper off

Common dietary triggers include:

  • Nitrates and MSG
  • Alcohol (red wine, champagne)
  • Aspartame
  • Caffeine (coffee, tea, cola)
  • Chocolate
  • Medications

Although all headaches are associated with pain, they differ considerably in severity, frequency and disability. Some sufferers may have severe pain only once each year, while others may have mild pain with severe nausea twice each month. That is why it's so important that the treatment plan is designed to meet the individual's needs.