What are Acute Headaches?

Most individuals will, at some point in their lives, experience an acute headache. Known as a headache that comes on suddenly or rapidly but is short lived, acute headaches are not life-threatening, but can be painful and distracting. Headaches can affect both children and adults, males and females, but generally are seen more in adult females.

Acute HeadacheAcute headaches can include many different types of headaches. Tension headaches are fairly if not the most common, and are often seen later in the day. Tension headaches generally feeling tightness across the head, similar to an invisible band pressing into the head and causing pain that is often dull and aching in nature. Tension headaches are similar in pain to a migraine headache, however, tension headaches lack the aura (visual perceptions) that sometimes will accompany migraines. Tension headaches also do not worsen with physical activity, while migraines do. Tension headaches can also cause pain to radiate to your scalp, neck and shoulders and may cause a loss in appetite.

While the cause of tension headaches is largely unknown, it is thought that potential causes of a tension headache may include clenching one’s jaw, enduring stress or stressful situations, and depression and/or anxiety.

Cluster headaches are named as such because they occur in a pattern – same time of day, after the same activity, concurrently with a season – thus a “cluster.” Cluster headaches also occur on one side of the head, can cause blockage or running of the nasal passage on the affected side, and can cause the eyelid on the affected side to droop or twitch. Additionally, it should be noted that those experiencing a “cluster period” should avoid alcohol, as many have reported the consumption of alcohol resulting in a severe and painful headache.

Ongoing research is being performed on those who suffer with cluster headaches, as they are very cyclical in nature, and usually strike at the same time each day, or consistently with a season or time of the year. It is now tentatively thought that abnormalities within the brain itself is the cause and explains the predictable regularity and cyclical nature of cluster headaches. Irregular hormonal patterns may also be a contributor to the cyclical nature of cluster headaches, as the onset of the headache will correlate to the onset of a hormone fluctuation.

Sometimes, a headache is just that – a headache. Pain brought about by stress, bad posture, experiencing an extended period of too much noise, or other factors. In these and the aforementioned cases, headaches can be treated with over the counter medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or aspirin. It is important to only take the indicated dosage of over the counter medications, as serious side effects can occur from prolonged over dosage. Other conservative treatment options for headaches may include massage therapy, chiropractic care, and acupuncture.

Should headaches be painful enough to consistently impede upon your lifestyle, it is recommended that you see a physician. Your physician may be able to prescribe other medications to treat the pain of headaches such as triptans, a recently developed medication specifically to treat recurring headaches. Your physician may also discover an underlying condition that will need to be treated, and so, if your headaches are frequent and persistent in nature, and cause you to not be able to go about your daily activities, your physician needs to be consulted.


  • MayoClinic.com
  • Raj, (2008) Raj’s Practical Management of Pain.415. (Benzon, Rathmell, Wu, Turk, Argoff Eds.)Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier