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Secondary Headache

A secondary headache is a symptom of a disease that can activate the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. Any number of conditions — varying greatly in severity — may cause secondary headaches.

Causes of Secondary Headaches

Sources and causes of secondary headaches can include:

  • Arterial tears (carotid or vertebral dissections)
  • Blood clot (venous thrombosis) within the brain — separate from stroke
  • Brain aneurysm (a bulge in an artery in your brain)
  • Brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation) (an abnormal formation of brain blood vessels)
  • Brain tumor
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Chiari malformation (structural problem at the base of your skull)
  • Concussion
  • Encephalitis (brain inflammation)
  • Giant cell arteritis (inflammation of the lining of the arteries)
  • Glaucoma
  • Hangovers
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Intracranial hematoma (blood vessel ruptures in the brain)
  • Medications to treat other disorders
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord)
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Overuse of pain medication
  • Post-concussion syndrome
  • Pressure from tight-fitting headgear, such as a helmet or goggles
  • Pseudotumor cerebri (increased pressure inside the skull)
  • Sinus inflammation and congestion
  • Stroke
  • Trigeminal neuralgia (disruption of the nerve connecting the face and brain)

Specific types of secondary headaches include:

  • External compression headaches (a result of pressure-causing headgear)
  • Ice cream headaches (commonly called brain freeze)
  • Rebound headaches (caused by overuse of pain medication)
  • Sinus headaches (caused by inflammation and congestion in sinus cavities)
  • Spinal headaches (caused by low levels of cerebrospinal fluid, possibly the result of trauma, spinal tap or spinal anesthesia)
  • Thunderclap headaches (caused by low levels of cerebrospinal fluid, possibly the result of trauma, spinal tap or spinal anesthesia)