If you’re getting headaches nearly every day, you might think it’s fairly normal. Whether they go away after you pop a few ibuprofen or they turn into monstrous migraines, getting headaches on the regular can be debilitating, even when the pain isn’t severe. In some cases, they can be a sign of serious medical conditions.
While we can safely say that headaches are a common issue, it’s difficult to estimate the scale of the problem. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 22.7 percent of adults reported having severe headaches within the last three months, while the 2011 National Health Interview Survey put the number at 16.6 percent. At least you know you aren’t alone.
Still, you might be wondering when you should seek medical treatment for headaches.
“As soon as the person develops headaches that are unusual, or if they’ve had headaches on a regular basis, they should see a doctor,” says Alexander Mauskop, MD, director of the New York Headache Center and a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “Or if they have a headache that’s accompanied by a fever, or if they start out of nowhere, and suddenly you’re having them daily.”
If that doesn’t sound like you though, it’s good to know that some types of everyday headaches can be successfully treated fairly quickly, once you’ve identified what’s triggering them. You might even be able to prevent your everyday headaches—and even some migraines—by committing to certain lifestyle changes.
What to Know When You’re Getting Headaches Every Day
Let’s get this out of the way: Getting severe headaches every day isn’t normal, so you should talk to your doctor, especially if they come on suddenly. Some headaches can indicate neurological disorders that require treatment, and sudden, severe headaches are always a cause for concern.
So, what’s a “severe headache” exactly? Most headaches fall into one of three general categories:
The most common type of headache, tension-type headaches can be described as a pressing or tightening pain. You might experience sensitivity to light or sound but nausea is less common.
Most people who experience tension headaches often don’t consult with doctors, and over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen and aspirin might be all you need to deal with these suckers. However, constant tension headaches may indicate an underlying medical condition, and they’re certainly debilitating for some people.
The classic description of a migraine is “the worst headache you’ve ever had.” If you’re not sure whether or not you’re having migraines, you probably aren’t having them. Frequently misdiagnosed, migraines are usually characterized by severe pain that seems to start on one side of the head. Like tension headaches, light and sound sensitivity is common with migraines, but so is nausea. In addition to that, many people experience visual disturbances like shimmering lights or zigzagging lines, sometimes known as auras.
About 12 percent of the United States population experiences migraines. “Women are three times more likely to get migraine headaches than men,” Mauskop says. “It’s usually a genetic predisposition. On top of that, predisposition can be influenced by various triggers.”
Think that cluster headaches are the same thing as migraines? Think again. Cluster headaches tend to occur along one side of the head or in a cyclic pattern behind the eyes or temples (hence the “cluster” name). They can occur for several weeks, and they’re often severe. However, cluster headaches are uncommon, particularly for women.
If you suffer from cluster headaches, you’ll want to see your doctor. While effective treatments are available, they include high-flow oxygen and subcutaneous injections, both of which need to be administered by a medical professional.
Since cluster headaches and migraines stem from neurological issues, they should be medically evaluated. They’re the “severe” headaches we referenced earlier.
If you’re suffering from tension headaches seemingly every day, or if you’ve had migraines in the past and they’re starting to occur slightly more often, you can try to reduce the frequency and severity of the headaches by making a few changes.
Just remember that if you’re not able to successfully treat the problem on your own, you’ll need to tell your doctor. There’s no good reason to live with any type of chronic pain.
Why You Seem to Get Headaches Every Day
A variety of triggers can cause or contribute to everyday headaches, but if you can’t figure out what those triggers are, you won’t have much luck fixing the issue
With tension headaches, experts believe that these triggers affect the skin, sinuses, blood vessels, and other structures more sensitive to pain or the muscles stretched across those structures, resulting in pain. In the case of migraines, the mechanisms are a bit more complex, but in the end, your goal is the same: Remove the triggers, and enjoy a (hopefully) headache-free life.
One of the most common headache triggers is stress, so we’ll address that first. Grab your comfy pants, because you’re going to need them.
Using Meditation to Control Everyday Headaches
People who suffer from migraines and tension headaches every day (or close to it!) are far more likely to use alternative medicine than those who don’t. Meditation seems most successful, but there’s also not much else that has substantial scientific support.
“Meditation can be very effective,” Mauskop says. “We’ve noticed significant improvements in patients who take on meditation as a part of their treatment.” If you’re getting headaches every day, consider starting meditation.
A 2014 study showed that getting migraines or tension-type headaches every day can lead to feeling stressed—wonder why! What’s more, the headache itself can cause stress, which in turn adds to the pain of the headache (thanks, brain). Exercise can effectively treat stress, but you probably won’t feel like going on a five-mile run while you’re nursing a bad headache every day, so try to get your exercise in before the headache strikes.
In addition to treating stress, exercise can “reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines,” according to the American Migraine Foundation. The key word here is regular, so commit to a certain amount of exercise per day and don’t let anything interfere with that time.
The Link Between Caffeine and Everyday Headaches
Does caffeine cause those constant headaches or does it cure them? The answer: both.
“Caffeine is a double-edged sword,” Mauskop says. “Over-the-counter medicines often include caffeine. However, headaches can worsen as a result of withdrawal mechanisms, as every regular coffee drinker probably knows. But it can help in small amounts.”
Caffeine causes the blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow, which is exactly the opposite of what happens when you’re having a headache or migraine. The pain-relieving effect is significantly improved when combined with acetaminophen and aspirin, which, thankfully, are over-the-counter painkillers.
However, too much caffeine can cause a rebound effect, which can trigger a headache. If you’re drinking multiple cups of coffee a day, that could be to blame if you’re getting a headache every day.
The National Headache Foundation recommends a daily caffeine intake of 200 milligrams or less. If you’re a regular coffee or tea drinker, you might want to monitor your intake to make sure that you’re under that number. A single cup of coffee can contain anywhere from 125 to 200 milligrams, so consider switching to a half-caff or decaf option if you’ve got a serious habit.
Changing Your Diet When You Get Headaches Every Day
Certain nutritional deficiencies seem linked to the development of severe, constant headaches, especially migraines.
“We often provide supplements to patients, for instance, magnesium supplements,” Mauskop says. “That can be dramatically effective.”
Magnesium supplements can effectively reduce the frequency of migraines. Magnesium may also play a role in the development of tension headaches, but there’s much less scientific support for that hypothesis.
Some migraine patients also show lower levels of folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, and supplementing with these vitamins can reduce migraines. Before supplementing, consider whether you could naturally increase your intake of these vitamins by changing your diet. Good sources of folic acid, for example, include vegetables like avocado, lettuce, and spinach.
CoQ10 is an antioxidant that migraine sufferers may benefit from. While over-the-counter supplements are available, natural sources of CoQ10 include soybean oil, beef, broccoli, roasted peanuts, and certain fish. CoQ10 deficiencies are rare in people with varied diets, but if you’ve been eating a restricted diet and you’re getting headaches every day or noticing a change in the severity of your headaches, consider adding a little variety to your diet.
For tension-type headaches, vitamin D deficiency may be a trigger. Constipation is also thought to be a common trigger, and research indicates that resolving constipation can also resolve the headaches you’re getting every day (so load up on your fiber).
Finally, make sure you’re getting enough fluids. According to some sources, up to 75 percent of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration. On top of that, water deprivation is thought to be a major cause of both tension and migraine headaches.
A Unique Approach to Fixing Everyday Headaches
If you’re having trouble figuring out why you get headaches every day, try tracking information about your diet, water intake, and stress levels.
You might also add sleep time, exercise, and other factors that could potentially play a role in headache development. Be consistent; while keeping a diary might feel pointless at first, the information could prove vital when you’re looking for ways to treat the issue.
When Your Everyday Headaches Mean You Need a Doctor
If you’re unable to treat your constant headache issues on your own, see your doctor. Alternative treatments are tempting, but in severe circumstances, medical intervention is absolutely essential.
“Treatment options include abortive drugs that you take as needed, just as you would with an over-the-counter drug,” Mauskop says. “There are things like Imitrex and similar drugs in that category.”
What about migraines? A 2014 study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain found that Botox—yes, that Botox—“reduced the number of headache and migraine days, and increased the number of headache free days” while significantly improving patients’ quality of life.
If you’re skeptical about Botox, Mauskop says that patients will soon have other options. “There’s a new category of drugs coming out this summer that have been subjected to all of the phases of testing,” he says. “They’re called monoclonal antibodies, and they bind to a chemical that releases the headaches for up to three months.”
Monoclonal antibodies have been hailed as a “breakthrough migraine therapy,” and they’re part of a new class of immunotherapy treatments.
If you’re truly suffering from headaches every day, doctors have a variety of ways to help patients treat severe daily headaches. If you’ve tried meditation, exercise, and supplementation, and even OTC pain meds aren’t doing a thing, get to the doctor; it’s worth getting checked out.