10 Surprising Causes of Constant Headaches

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Tension headaches can be caused by everything from dehydration to undiagnosed diabetes or an autoimmune disease. But stress is the most commonly reported trigger for tension headaches, the Mayo Clinic explains.

A tension headache feels tight, like your head is in a vice, and can occur on both sides and commonly hits later in the day as tension builds. “It’s a tight, oppressing feeling,” Dr. Hutchinson explains.

If you’re experiencing constant headaches, chances are they’re either tension headaches or migraines.

So what does it mean if you have constant headaches?

Technically, for your headaches to be considered chronic, they need to go on for 15 days or longer per month, for at least three consecutive months, SELF reported previously. That being said, if you have recurring headaches for, say, two weeks, that doesn’t mean you should discount your pain—you should still see your doctor.

The causes of constant, headaches—whether tension or migraine—range from totally minor to pretty major. Here are 10 things your headaches could be telling you about your health.

1. You’re stressed.

“Unresolved stress can really contribute to headache,” Dr. Hutchinson says. As mentioned, tension headaches happen when the muscles of the neck and scalp tense up, and this can be a physical response that your body has to stress and anxiety, MedlinePlus explains.

If you’re suffering from constant headaches, stop and think about what’s going on in your life. How stressed are you? And are you just pushing your stress under the rug instead of dealing with it?

Fix it: This is where stress management and self-care techniques become crucial. These techniques can range from lifestyle changes to psychotherapeutic interventions. like cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help you better cope with anxious thoughts. Everyone’s stress and anxiety management methods are different, as SELF reported previously; but oftentimes a mix of techniques that you can do on your own and/or with a mental health professional is best.

2. You’re dehydrated.

“With any kind of headache, a person needs to look at their health habits,” Dr. Hutchinson says. One important thing to look at is water intake, as dehydration can cause headaches. The exact connection is unknown, but experts believe it has to do with the way blood volume drops when you’re not getting enough water. Lower blood volume means less oxygen is getting to the brain.

Fix it: Keep an eye out for obvious signs of dehydration, including having yellow pee, feeling thirsty, and having a dry mouth. Then, drink more water (of course). You can also up the number of foods with high water content in your diet (think: celery, watermelon, and tomatoes).

The amount of fluids you need to consume depends on different factors, like your age and physical activity levels. But as a general rule of thumb, women should consume about 2.7 liters (91 ounces) of water (from drinks and food) each day, and roughly 3.7 liters (125 ounces) of water daily for men, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

3. You’re anemic.

Anemia is a condition where you lack enough red blood cells to properly transport oxygen to tissues throughout your body, the Mayo Clinic explains. It can bring on symptoms including fatigue, feeling weak, shortness of breath, and others. “More severe anemia can cause headache,” Dr. Hutchinson says.

There are different causes of anemia, including having an iron deficiency, having lower-than-normal levels of B-12 and/or folic acid, or having a chronic health condition, like sickle cell anemia, that leads to anemia.

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