Possible causes of exertion headaches

Fact Checked

An exertion headache is basically an abrupt, severe onset of pain that develop during or immediately after rigorous physical exertion. A primary exertional headache is distinguished from other headaches caused by certain disorders that occur during exercise. Since some of these disorders can be dangerous, individuals who experience any severe head pain for the first time should consult a doctor in order to rule out these conditions. If you want to learn more about headaches, click here.

What is primary exertional headache?

It is important to note that exertional headaches are not common, thus there are no actual studies that focuses on primary exertional headaches. This is also called as benign exertional headache. Some individuals who were diagnosed with this type of headache are experienced with abrupt onset of a harsh headache while taking part in any form of strenuous activity.

These individuals describe a bursting or popping pain on both sides of the head that lasts for 2-4 hours. Take note that the pain is usually on both sides of the head and can persist for a few seconds up to two days. Individuals who are diagnosed with primary exertional headache can minimize or eliminate future headaches by observing simple preventive measures such as proper warm up and avoid breath holding while engaging in strenuous activity or exercise.

Exertion headache
Some individuals who were diagnosed with this type of headache are experienced with abrupt onset of a harsh headache while taking part in any form of strenuous activity.

Migraine initiated by exertion

Take note that migraine headaches can be initiated by exertion and oftentimes mistaken for primary exertion headache. Since the treatment for a migraine is significantly different from the treatment for primary exertional headache, it can lead to unnecessary suffering for the individual. Luckily, migraines have various features that can help distinguish it from other types of headaches.

Migraines typically build up over an hour or two, thus the individual often knows when a headache is about to occur while exertion headaches occur abruptly. Additionally, migraines can oftentimes be preceded by an aura which usually involves visual disturbances. Take note that migraines often cause amplified sensitivity to light. This type of headache is typically experienced on only one side of the head while exertion headache affects both sides. Lastly, sleep typically improves migraine but has minimal effect on an exertion headache.

Intercranial hemorrhage

It is important to note that an intercranial hemorrhage can occur once the blood vessel inside the brain bursts. The indications of an intercranial hemorrhage depend on the location of the vessel in the brain.

When it comes to subarachnoid hemorrhage which occur close to the exterior lining of the brain, it usually causes abrupt, severe headache with stiff neck but without other symptoms. Intraparenchymal hemorrhage can occur deep within the brain and typically causes abrupt onset weakness, sensory defect and numbness but occasional headache is the only symptom. Take note that if subarachnoid hemorrhage is left untreated, it can cause loss of consciousness and even death. This is why it is essential to rule it out as a cause of an abrupt and severe headache before a diagnosis on primary exertional headache is given.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top

The information posted on this page is for educational purposes only.
If you need medical advice or help with a diagnosis contact a medical professional

  • All firstaidreddeer.ca content is reviewed by a medical professional and / sourced to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

  • We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable websites, academic research institutions and medical articles.

  • If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, out-of-date, or otherwise questionable, please contact us through our contact us page.