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.
Emotional stress, fatigue, or anger can result in tension headaches. Other risk factors include
and having too little physical activity, and too little sleep.
Certain conditions are associated with tension headaches and tightening of the muscles in the neck, face, and scalp. These include:
Lifestyle triggers can vary from person to person. Some reported triggers include
- Skipping meals
- Too much or too little sleep
- Emotional events
- Depression or anxiety
- 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. Reported triggers include:
- Caffeine (or caffeine withdrawal)
- Aged cheeses
- Monosodium glutamate
- Certain fruits and nuts
- Fermented or pickled goods
- Cured or processed meats
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
The highest incidence is in teenage years.
Migraine headaches are more common among females—with a 3:1 female to male ratio.
Migraines seem to run in families. Approximately 90% of migraine patients have a positive family history.
Migraines may be triggered by the blood vessels overreacting to a variety of factors, including:
- Changes in altitude, weather, or time-zone
- Glaring lights
- Perfumes or other odors
Cluster headaches seem to occur more often in
Having head surgery or a
increases your risk of cluster headache.
Risk is greatest between 20-50 years old.
Males are at greater risk for cluster headaches than females.
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:
Bigal ME, Lipton RB. Modifiable risk factors for migraine progression.
Brandes JL. The influence of estrogen on migraine: a systematic review.
Gardner KL. Genetics of migraine: an update.
Headache—frequently asked questions. National Headache Foundation website. Available at:
http://www.headaches.org/education/Tools_for_Sufferers/Headache_-_Frequently_Asked_Questions. Accessed September 11, 2008.
Headache. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/detail_headache.htm. Updated September 2012. Accessed November 7, 2012.
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.
Last reviewed November 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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