A risk factor is something that raises the chance you will get a disease or health problem.

You can get headaches with or without the risk factors below. But, the more you have, the greater your chances of getting headaches. If you have many risks, ask your doctor what you can do to lower them.

Risk Factors for Tension Headache

Lifestyle Factors

Stress, tiredness, or anger can cause tension headaches. Other risks are smoking and not getting enough exercise or sleep.

Health Problems

Some health problems are linked to tension headaches and tightening of the muscles in the neck, face, and head. These are:

Risk Factors for Migraine

Lifestyle Factors

Triggers can differ in each person. Some are:

  • Skipping meals
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Stressful events
  • Smoking
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Loud or sudden noises

Some foods can trigger a migraine. Keep a food diary to help you learn which foods or food additives may cause your headaches. They may be:

  • Aspartame
  • Caffeine or caffeine withdrawal
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Aged cheeses
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Some fruits and nuts
  • Fermented or pickled items
  • Cured or processed meats


Some medicines may trigger a migraine, such as:

  • Birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy
  • Headache medicine used on a daily or near daily basis


Migraines are more common in teens.


These headaches are more common in women.

Genetic Factors

These headaches seem to run in families.


These headaches may be started by blood vessels overreacting to things like:

  • Menstruation
  • Tiredness
  • Changes in altitude, weather, or time-zone
  • Strong lights
  • Perfumes or other smells

Risk Factors for Cluster Headache

Lifestyle Factors

Cluster headaches seem to happen more often in people whosmoke.

Medical Conditions

Having head surgery or a head injury raises your risk.


They are more common in people who are 20 to 50 years old.


They are more common in men.

Risk Factors for Sinus Headache

Health Problems

Some health problems increase nose secretions and cause swelling in the tissues lining the nose passages. These changes lead to stuffiness. The passages get blocked and normal drainage can't happen. When this happens, the sinuses may get infected with bacteria or, rarely, fungus. The swollen tissues or infection may cause pain and pressure.

Health problems that increase sinus pressure and your risk of sinus headache are:


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Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS) The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition. Cephalalgia. 2018 Jan;38(1):1-211.

Headache—frequently asked questions. National Headache Foundation website. Available at: https://headaches.org/about/frequently-asked-questions/. Accessed January 11, 2019.

Merikangas KR. Update on the genetics of migraine. Headache. 2012;52(3):521-522.

Migraine in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114718/Migraine-in-adults. Updated November 8, 2018. Accessed December 19, 2018.

NINDS headache information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Headache-Information-Page. Accessed December 19, 2018.

Tension-type headache. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114522/Tension-type-headache. Updated March 20, 2018. Accessed December 19, 2018.

8/27/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114773/Headache: Robberstad L, Dyb G, Hagen K, et al. An unfavorable lifestyle and recurrent headaches among adolescents: The HUNT Study. Neurology. 2010;75(8):712-717.

1/2/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114773/Headache: Watemberg N, Matar M, Har-Gil M, Mahajnah M, et al. The influence of excessive chewing gum use on headache frequency and severity among adolescents. Pediatr Neurol. 2014;50(1):69-72.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD  Last Updated: 1/15/2019