Overview

Most people have headaches from time to time. But if you have a headache more days than not, you might have chronic daily headaches.

Rather than a specific headache type, chronic daily headaches include a variety of headache subtypes. Chronic refers to how often the headaches occur and how long the condition lasts.

The constant nature of chronic daily headaches makes them one of the most disabling headache conditions. Aggressive initial treatment and steady, long-term management might reduce pain and lead to fewer headaches.

Symptoms

By definition, chronic daily headaches occur 15 days or more a month, for longer than three months. True (primary) chronic daily headaches aren’t caused by another condition.

There are short-lasting and long-lasting chronic daily headaches. Long-lasting headaches last more than four hours. They include:

Chronic migraine
Chronic tension-type headache
New daily persistent headache
Hemicrania continua
Chronic migraine

This type typically occurs in people with a history of episodic migraines. Chronic migraines tend to:

Affect one side or both sides of your head
Have a pulsating, throbbing sensation
Cause moderate to severe pain
And they cause at least one of the following:

Nausea, vomiting or both
Sensitivity to light and sound
Chronic tension-type headache

These headaches tend to:

Affect both sides of your head
Cause mild to moderate pain
Cause pain that feels pressing or tightening, but not pulsating
New daily persistent headache

These headaches come on suddenly, usually in people without a headache history. They become constant within three days of your first headache. They:

Often affect both sides of your head
Cause pain that feels like pressing or tightening, but not pulsating
Cause mild to moderate pain
Might have features of chronic migraine or chronic tension-type headache
Hemicrania continua

These headaches:

Affect only one side of your head
Are daily and continuous with no pain-free periods
Cause moderate pain with spikes of severe pain
Respond to the prescription pain reliever indomethacin (Indocin)
Can become severe with development of migraine-like symptoms
In addition, hemicrania continua headaches are associated with at least one of the following:

Tearing or redness of the eye on the affected side
Nasal congestion or runny nose
Drooping eyelid or pupil narrowing
Sensation of restlessness
When to see a doctor

Occasional headaches are common, and usually require no medical attention. However, consult your doctor if:

You usually have two or more headaches a week
You take a pain reliever for your headaches most days
You need more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter pain remedies to relieve your headaches
Your headache pattern changes or your headaches worsen
Your headaches are disabling
Seek prompt medical care if your headache:

Is sudden and severe
Accompanies a fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizure, double vision, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking
Follows a head injury
Gets worse despite rest and pain medication
Request an Appointment at Mayo Clinic
Causes

The causes of many chronic daily headaches aren’t well-understood. True (primary) chronic daily headaches don’t have an identifiable underlying cause.

Conditions that might cause nonprimary chronic daily headaches include:

Inflammation or other problems with the blood vessels in and around the brain, including stroke
Infections, such as meningitis
Intracranial pressure that’s either too high or too low
Brain tumor
Traumatic brain injury
Medication overuse headache

This type of headache usually develops in people who have an episodic headache disorder, usually migraine or tension type, and take too much pain medication. If you’re taking pain medications — even over-the-counter — more than two days a week (or nine days a month), you’re at risk of developing rebound headaches.