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Risk Factors for Headache

A risk factor is something that increases your likelihood of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop headaches with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing headaches. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk Factors for Tension Headache

Specific Lifestyle Factors

Emotional stress, fatigue, or anger can result in tension headaches. Other risk factors include smoking and having too little physical activity, and too little sleep.

Medical Conditions

Certain conditions are associated with tension headaches and tightening of the muscles in the neck, face, and scalp. These include:

Risk Factors for Migraine

Specific Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle triggers can vary from person to person. Some reported triggers include

  • Skipping meals
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Emotional events
  • Smoking
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Excessive alcohol use and hangovers
  • Loud or sudden noises

Certain foods can also trigger a migraine. Keep a food diary to help you learn which foods or food additives may cause your migraines. Triggers may include

  • Aspartame
  • Caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Aged cheeses
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Certain fruits and nuts
  • Fermented or pickled goods
  • Cured or processed meats
Medications

Use of certain medications may trigger a migraine, including:

  • Birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy; there may be some relationship between female hormones and migraines
  • Headache remedies used on a daily or near daily basis
Age

The highest incidence is in teenage years.

Gender

Migraine headaches are more common among females.

Genetic Factors

Migraines seem to run in families.

Other

Migraines may be triggered by blood vessels overreacting to a variety of factors, including:

  • Menstruation
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in altitude, weather, or time-zone
  • Glaring lights
  • Perfumes or other odors

Risk Factors for Cluster Headache

Specific Lifestyle Factors

Cluster headaches seem to occur more often in smokers.

Medical Conditions

Having head surgery or a head injury increases your risk of cluster headache.

Age

Risk is greatest between 20-50 years old.

Gender

Males are at greater risk for cluster headaches than females.

Risk Factors for Sinus Headache

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions increase nasal secretions and cause swelling in the tissues lining the nasal passages. These changes lead to nasal congestion and stuffiness. The nasal passages become blocked and normal drainage cannot occur. Secretions that are trapped in the sinuses may become infected with bacteria or, rarely, fungus. The swollen tissues or infection may create pain and pressure.

Conditions that increase sinus pressure and increase your risk of sinus headache include:

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 11/2013 -
  • Update Date: 01/02/2014 -
  • Bigal ME, Lipton RB. Modifiable risk factors for migraine progression. Headache. 2006;46:1334-1343.

  • Brandes JL. The influence of estrogen on migraine: a systematic review. JAMA. 2006;295:1824-1830.

  • Gardner KL. Genetics of migraine: an update. Headache. 2006;46:S19-24.

  • Headache—frequently asked questions. National Headache Foundation website. Available at: http://www.headaches.org/education/Tools%5Ffor%5FSufferers/Headache—Frequently%5FAsked%5FQuestions. Accessed November 19, 2013.

  • Headache. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/detail%5Fheadache.htm. Updated November 8, 2013. Accessed November 19, 2013.

  • 8/27/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Robberstad L, Dyb G, et al. An unfavorable lifestyle and recurrent headaches among adolescents: The HUNT Study. Neurology. 2010;75(8):712-717.

  • 1/2/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Watemberg N, Matar M, et al. The influence of excessive chewing gum use on headache frequency and severity among adolescents. Pediatr Neurol. 2014 Jan;50(1):69-72.

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