Severe Headache

What Causes Headaches?

Headache pain results from signals interacting between the brain, blood vessels, and surrounding nerves. During a headache, specific nerves of the blood vessels and head muscles are activated and send pain signals to the brain. It’s not clear, however, why these signals are activated in the first place.

Causes of acute-onset headaches

  • Infection
  • Cold
  • Fever
  • Sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses)
  • Pharyngitis (inflammation or infection of the throat)
  • Otitis (ear infection or inflammation)
  • Head trauma
  • Causes of tension or chronic non-progressive headaches:
  • Emotional stress related to family and friends, work, or school
  • Alcohol use
  • Skipping meals
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Excessive medication use
  • Depression
  • Eyestrain
  • Neck or back strain due to poor posture
  • Environmental causes of headaches:
  • Exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke
  • Strong odors from household chemicals or perfumes
  • Exposure to certain allergens
  • Pollution
  • Noise
  • Lighting
  • Weather changes

What do I do?

If you are suffering from severe headaches, it is very important to know when to call your doctor, how to get the necessary treatment, and how to prevent this pain in the future.


The proper treatment will depend on several factors, including the type and frequency of the headache and its cause. Treatment may include education, counseling, stress management, and medications. The treatment prescribed for you will be tailored to meet your specific needs. If you experience severe or persistent headaches, be sure to consult a doctor to find out what is causing your headaches and to get treatment to help reduce them.


The best way to prevent severe headaches is through lifestyle changes. Here are some helpful tips to help you prevent future head pain:

  • Reduce stress in your life (meditate, plan ahead, organize)
  • Avoid excessive alcohol use
  • Maintain a normal sleep pattern
  • Practice good posture
  • Eat at least three meals per day


Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service (GERMS)
Village C West 206
(202) 687-4357

Student Health Center
Darnall Hall Ground Floor
To make an appt: (202) 687-2200
After hours clinician on-call: (202) 444-7243

Georgetown University Hospital
3800 Reservoir Road
Emergency Room
Call 911