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Good Question: Why Do We Get Headaches?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Headaches happen to all of us. But for one in 20 people, headaches can happen every day.

But why do we get them?

"There are lot of reasons we get headaches," said Michelle Napral, a physician's assistant with the University of Minnesota. "It can be lack of sleep, diet, caffeine or even changes in hormones."

Headaches are not pain in a person's brain because the brain itself doesn't have any pain sensors in it.

"Headaches are usually related to pain sensors in the lining of the brain or in the blood vessels of the brain," said Dr. Yasha Kayan, an interventional neuroradiologist with Allina Health.

There are two types of headaches: primary and secondary. Primary headaches are due to the headache itself and not another cause. Secondary headaches, which are less common, happen because of another underlying medical condition, like a tumor or infection.

"Some headaches are related to changes in blood flow to the brain, and so you can get a headache from either too much or too little blood flow," Kayan said.

For example, caffeine headaches occur because caffeine clamps down on blood vessels. When a person skips their morning coffee, they get an abnormal blood flow to the brain, which causes pain.

Headaches that come with hangovers are due to dehydration, which can bring about a reduced blood flow to the brain.

Tension headaches are the most common kind of primary headache. They are often a result of stress and when people tense up the muscles in their neck or head.

"It's called referred pain," Kayan said. "Often times we get pain in locations that are not directly related to the cause."

Migraines are a different story. Doctors still can't pinpoint the exact reasons behind them, but they have some theories.

"We first thought that it was mostly related to blood changes, blood-flow changes, but we know think it's more related to an abnormal firing of the nerves," he said.

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