Chronic headaches can be caused by many factors, ranging from behavior that is relatively easy for most people to correct to more serious underlying health problems. Some of the most common causes of chronic headaches are the habitual use of analgesics, caffeine withdrawal, a reaction to head or neck trauma, stress, tension, food additives, and the use of recreational drugs such as marijuana. Chronic headaches can also be caused by an infection such as meningitis or other dangerous conditions such as intracranial pressure that is too high or too low, a tumor or a brain injury. Depression is another common cause of chronic headaches, particularly in people over the age of 50.
Although most people have occasional headaches, certain symptoms require the attention of a physician. People are advised to visit their doctor if they are experiencing a chronic daily headache, defined as a headache that occurs on 15 days or more each month for at least three months. A doctor should also be consulted for chronic headaches that follow a head injury, that are sudden and severe, or that accompany a fever, double vision, numbness or difficulty speaking. A medical professional can determine if the headache is the result of a major health problem.
Chronic headaches can also affect people who frequently use over-the-counter analgesics to relieve pain. A cycle often occurs in which the person takes more analgesics as soon as the first dose's effect wears off, resulting in a low-level persistent headache. The solution is to avoid the use of analgesics. Similarly, heavy caffeine users can avoid chronic headaches by permanently cutting down on their consumption of coffee or cola drinks.
A chronic tension headache can be the result of stress, a family history of tension headaches, depression or anxiety. This type of headache is often marked by a dull, aching pain. Doctors believe tension headaches caused by stress typically cannot be alleviated until the situation causing the stress is resolved. Mental health professionals can help with issues involving depression or anxiety.
Chemicals added to processed foods, including nitrites in hot dogs and cured meats, as well as monosodium glutamate, can cause chronic headaches in some people. This type of headache is often throbbing and marked by pressure or tightness in the face and scalp. People susceptible to this type of headache should avoid the offending food additives. Marijuana smokers also often experience persistent mild headaches as a result of their use of the drug. The situation can be exacerbated by metabolites that remain in the bloodstream for several days after smoking the drug.