What Are Constant Headaches?

Headaches are usually episodic, and it can become worrisome when the pain doesn’t subside. In some cases, a headache may even last for over three months. These constant headaches are known as chronic daily headaches. They are present at least 15 days per month and last three months or longer.

Technically speaking, any head pain that keeps lingering, with either severe or dull pain, is considered a chronic daily headache. While symptoms may diminish for a certain period of time, these headaches are known to return to their full strength after hours, days or even weeks.

Constant headaches include chronic migraine, chronic tension headache, new daily persistent headache and hemicrania continua.

Chronic Migraine

Chronic migraines are the most common type of constant headaches. They are a debilitating one-sided headache that occurs for more than 50 percent of the time for at least three months. This headache can cause severe pain and worsens with physical activity.

Chronic Tension Headaches

This condition can be due to increased muscle tension in the upper body, which can lead to strain, bad posture and muscle spasms. Changes in brain hormones could also be factors.

This condition:

  • Affects both sides of the head in a band-like distribution
  • Causes pain described as pressing or tightening (but not pulsating)
  • May come with skull tenderness
  • Is not related to physical activity

You may also experience photophobia or phonophobia if you’ve been diagnosed with this type of headache.

New Daily Persistent Headache

This type of constant headaches appears suddenly over the course of a few days in individuals with no prior headache history. New daily persistent headaches can sometimes last for months and usually have symptoms typical of migraines and tension headaches.

Characteristics are similar to chronic tension headaches: they affect both sides of the head with pain that is described as pressing or tightening. Skull tenderness is sometimes also reported. 

Hemicrania Continua

Hemicrania continua is a rare type of constant headaches and involves the recurrence of a one-sided headache that usually involves spikes of intense pain. Some headaches are daily and continuous, but others can last for up to six months.

Because of this condition’s one-sided nature, the occurrence of hemicrania continua is often mistakenly attributed to neurological causes. Along with migraine symptoms, you may also experience:

  • Eye redness/tearing on the headache side
  • Nasal congestion
  • Drooping eyelid or pupil narrowing

What Causes Constant Headaches?

To this day, constant headache causes are not well defined. Experts say that true chronic daily headaches have no definite cause, which can make diagnosis challenging for physicians. To complicate matters, some symptoms that could help with diagnosing a patient may appear only at a later stage. Some physicians have also been known to attribute this condition to psychological factors such as anxiety or depression, which can be aggravating for patients.

Going through a series of tests, different medications and doses can become frustrating if you’ve been experiencing constant headaches. That’s why it’s important to seek treatment with a headache specialist who has experience with your specific problem. Only he or she has the knowledge and expertise to make a thorough assessment to evaluate your condition and start an individualized treatment plan. Your headache specialist may also work with your primary care physician, psychiatrist or neurologist depending on your case.

Treatment for Constant Headaches

Treatment for constant headaches will vary based on your symptoms and type of chronic daily headache, if it can be determined. Pharmacological therapy is widely used as preventive medicine and can include antidepressants, beta blockers, anti-seizure medications and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. In the case of tension headaches, muscle relaxants may also help.

Botox injections into key areas and acupuncture can also provide relief from constant headaches. If anxiety or stress is an issue, then your treatment plan might include psychological intervention and biofeedback. Massage therapy is also performed to reduce stress, relieve pain, promote relaxation and eliminate any muscular tension that could be related to your headaches. Nerve blocks and trigger point injections in the occipital nerve are also commonly incorporated into treatment plans. If your constant headaches are severe, then you might require IV infusions.

Constant Headaches