Experiencing pain inside the head and/or the back of the neck? There are lots of different types and causes of headaches; here are the most common culprits and how to treat them.

Girl with her head in her hand looking in pain

I should so not have drunk that much red wine!

Tension headache

A feeling of pressure on both sides of the head, as if a band has been snapped around your bonce. Caused by tightening of the muscles and sinews in the head and neck, this accounts for 70% of headaches.

Causes: Often associated with stress, anxiety and depression. Hunger, smoking and eyestrain are also likely suspects.

Crack it: Relieve pain by applying a warm or cold towel to the head. Massaging temples can also help, though many people resort to over the counter pain relievers and let the drugs deal with it. Review your lifestyle, too: are you sitting at a computer for long periods without a break, following a bad diet and smoking too much, or just rushing around with no time for yourself? If so, take practical steps to alleviate built-up tension.


Characterised by intense throbbing and often recurrent pain on one side of the head. A migraine may leave you feeling sick, sensitive to light and sound, and can last up to three days. Around 20% of all headaches are migraines.

Causes: A constriction of vessels in the head and neck messes with blood flow. Stress, smoking, and some allergies and foods containing the amino acid tyramine (found in red wine, mature cheese and fish) are often thought to be behind migraines. The menstrual cycle and use of the oral contraceptive pill are also sometimes associated with migraine among women.

Crack it: Many people find it helps to retreat from the world and lie down in a dark room. Keep up your fluids to avoid dehydration and steer clear of anything that you suspect might have caused a migraine in the past. Over-the-counter pain relief, especially analgesics, can also prove effective, but try not to rely on medication as your only treatment for the symptoms.

Hangover headache

Tends to kick in six to eight hours after drinking alcohol, which is why people often wake up feeling lousy after a big night. On top of a headache, other symptoms are often present such as dizziness, trembling, nausea, and a fleeting wish to curl up and die.

Causes: Alcohol causes cells in the body to dehydrate. When the liver is starved of oxygen it can’t get rid of toxins so it is forced to call on the body’s reserves, eventually taking water from other organs including the brain, causing that thumping hangover.

Crack it: Restore your fluids by drinking a pint of water before you pass out, continue to sip water the next day, eat a nourishing breakfast and avoid hair of the dog cures, which will only end up making your headache worse.

See your GP when:

  • The headache is severe;
  • The headache keeps coming back;
  • Over-the-counter pain relief doesn’t help;
  • Other symptoms, such as fever or neck stiffness, kick in with your headache.

Photo of a girl with headache by Shutterstock.

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Updated on 08-Dec-2015