Surprising causes of headaches

Every year, 45 million people in the U.S. experience a headache, and 8 million of them seek medical attention for their symptoms. Here are the causes of headaches that may surprise you!

1) Hormones

The hormone estrogen mitigates the way nerves in the brain process pain, so a sudden drop in estrogen can make pain receptors more sensitive and trigger a headache.  Because both estrogen and progesterone drop precipitously just before menstruation, many women who suffer from migraines are especially prone to migraines just before their period, which are called menstrual migraines.

Oral contraceptives that contain fluctuating levels of estrogen can trigger headaches as well, especially during the fourth week of a birth control pack, which contains 7 doses of hormone-free placebo pills.

Because estrogen levels also begin to drop as a woman nears menopause, perimenopausal women are also prone to hormone-related headaches.

2) Posture

Because the muscles in the back, shoulders and neck connect to the muscles of the scalp, poor posture can put excess tension on the head and trigger headaches that can affect the scalp, temples, or forehead.

There are several ways to prevent posture-related headaches: working at an ergonomic workstation, being mindful of posture, taking frequent breaks from sitting, and doing gentle neck, back and shoulder stretching exercises throughout the day. 

3) Non-Steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Taking frequent doses of anti-inflammatory medications meant to alleviate headaches can actually start to cause headaches instead. These are referred to as “NSAID rebound headaches” or “medication overuse headaches.”

Taking frequent doses of NSAIDs for more than two to three weeks increases the risk of developing rebound headaches.

Rebound headaches are more common in women, and in people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or chronic pain.

Healthcare providers can help patients choose alternative pain-relieving medications and pain-reducing techniques to reduce the risk of NSAID rebound headaches.

4) Weather

Another surprising cause of headaches is the weather. Some patients’ headaches are triggered by bright sunlight. In other cases, headaches are triggered by significant changes in humidity or temperature. 

Pressure changes caused by a shift in atmospheric pressure can also trigger headaches. These pressure changes are thought to affect chemical and electrical signals in the brain, which in some cases may trigger headaches.

5) Food

Researchers have found that around 20% of patients with headaches are sensitive to certain food triggers. While the mechanism of how food causes a headache isn’t well understood, some of the most common headache culprits include aged cheeses, red wine, smoked fish and nitrite-containing meats.

To identify food triggers, it’s helpful for patients to keep a “headache diary” where they track what they eat and when they get headaches to see if there’s a correlation between certain foods and the onset of their symptoms.


We’re here 7 days a week to care for you. It’s easy and convenient to save your spot online.



Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant