Do Headaches Cause High Blood Pressure?

  • 1st Revision: Znar Mahmood
  • 2nd Revision: Jasmine Yeh[Linkedin]
  • 3rd Revision: Tolulope Ogunniyi

Do you know that headaches may indicate the presence of a more serious health issue? If you are constantly experiencing headaches, it is best to seek medical attention and get properly diagnosed and treated, if necessary. 

Headaches range from mild to severely painful, and the cause of the pain in the head, when addressed, brings great relief to the body. Read more to see the link between headache and blood pressure.

Common Causes of Headaches

According to WHO, headaches are experienced by everyone at one time or the other due to stress or other common causes. Recurrent headache leads to headache disorder. Headaches refer to pain felt in your head or face, and it can be so severe or mild; it can be constant, sharp, or dull. According to the NHS website, common causes of headaches include the flu, too much alcohol, eye problems, bad eating pattern, low consumption of water (dehydration), stress, overuse of painkillers, menstrual cycle, and menopause.

In addition, headaches can also be caused by exposure to allergens, smoke, and toxic odours from chemicals. 1,2,3

What is a Migraine? 

Migraines are a type of headache disorder experienced as a throbbing pain in one side of the head, and it is considered a public health concern because migraines are one of the causes of disability.

It is observed that migraine begins most time during puberty. The ratio of occurrence in women and men is 2:1. Women are suspected to be at a higher risk of getting migraines due to hormonal changes. Migraines are said to occur when the brain causes the release of pain-inducing inflammatory substances around the nerve and blood vessels of the head.

Migraine often occurs and can be aggravated by external factors, such as physical activities. It can be intense or moderate, lasting for about a few hours or possibly a few days. This occurrence can happen once a year or once a week. Children generally tend to have a migraine for a short period, accompanied by abdominal pains. 4,5

According to NHS, migraines are grouped into different categories depending on the symptoms experienced:

  • Migraine with Aura –  This happens when a person has a warning sign, like observing a flashlight before the migraine starts.
  • Migraine without Aura – This is characterised by no warning signs. The migraine starts suddenly.
  • Silent Migraine – This is when a migraine associated with aura is coupled with all other migraine symptoms, excluding headaches.

Signs and Symptoms

Some observed symptoms associated with migraine include moderate or intense headache in one part of the head(pain can extend to the neck or face). In some cases, one may feel cold or hot, and experience excessive sweating, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea, and high sensitivity to sound, odour, and light. In some extreme situations, some people have trouble speaking and have tingling sensations on their hands, arm & face. 6

Causes and Risk Factors7

Migraine does not have a specific cause, but environmental, emotional, and hormonal factors can trigger it.

  • Environmental Factors – Too much screen time (e.g. TV, computers), sudden exposure to bright light, dusty, or stuffy environment, weather changes,
  • Hormonal Factors – Some women experience migraine a few days before and after their period. Hormonal contraceptive pill usage is sometimes associated with migraines as a side effect. Women in the menopause stage also tend to have migraines. This worsens due to the hormones released when approaching menopause.
  • Emotional Factors – Too much excitement, sadness, panic, and/or depression.
  • Other factors that can trigger migraine can be something as simple as skipping a meal or poor eating habits, stress, much workload, jet lag and/or insomnia. The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but they are thought to result from abnormal brain activity that temporarily affects nerve signals, chemicals, and blood vessels in the brain. 

It has been shown that some food containing tyramine can also trigger migraine. Such food includes smoked fish, cured meats, and pickled herrings. Also, some tend to develop migraines after consuming chocolate, orange, lemon, and other citrus fruit.

When to get medical advice

It is advisable to consult your doctor if you experience migraines that last for more than five days in a month, and you do not get relieved of the symptoms after taking a painkiller

It is considered an emergency if you are experiencing migraine associated with paralysis in the face, seizures, or slurred speech. Please call the emergency helpline(i.e. 999 or 911), as the case may be in your country. 6

What is Hypertension (a.k.a High Blood Pressure)? 

According to the CDC, hypertension occurs when the pressure or force in your blood vessel is constantly high. This condition causes more pressure to be exerted on the heart and it increases the work needed for the heart to pump blood. This can lead to heart diseases, stroke, and heart attack. It can also cause eye problems and kidney failure.

Increased pressure on blood flow will cause the arteries to lose their elasticity, thereby making the blood vessel stiff. Plaque (i.e. fatty material) build-up clogs stiff arteries and increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.8,9,10,11

How High is "High"?

Blood pressure can be measured using a blood pressure monitor.

The monitor displays various numbers on the screen, but blood pressure is recorded with 2 numbers (unit is mmHg). The upper number is the systolic blood pressure, and the lower number is the diastolic blood pressure.

These two numbers are very important because the upper number measures the force with which the heart works to pump blood around the body, and the lower number shows the resistance to blood flow in the blood vessels.

Normal blood pressure ranges between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg

When the upper number (systolic reading) is 150mmHg and above, and/or the lower number (diastolic reading) is 90mmHg or above, it is considered to be a very high blood pressure reading.

A person with a blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg to 140/90mmHg is at risk of having hypertension.

Signs and Symptoms

Hypertension is termed a ‘silent killer’ as it does not have obvious signs and/or symptoms. So, the best way to know your blood pressure is to take the readings with the blood pressure monitor.

 The NHS recommends that people aged 40 years and above should have their blood pressure checked every five years. 

Causes and Risk Factors

Various conditions or factors can increase the risk of developing hypertension. Factors and causes include:

  • Medical Condition – Some diseases in the body can lead to hypertension as well and the condition is known as secondary hypertension, 

Pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart defects and kidney disorders can cause secondary hypertension. Moreover, some pregnant women develop hypertension, known as pregnancy-induced hypertension. People who have diabetes are also commonly diagnosed with secondary hypertension which can be treated once the primary cause (existing health issue) is treated.

  • Diet – Poor Diet increases your risk of getting hypertension. It has been found that too much sodium-containing food increases the risk of developing hypertension. Therefore, salty food should be avoided. Food high in sugar, trans fat, and saturated fat also increases hypertension risks. 
  • Obesity – Being overweight or obese puts more pressure on the heart to pump blood around the body, thereby increasing the blood pressure.
  • Family History – Genes also play a part in increasing the risk of hypertension. It has been observed that people with family members diagnosed with hypertension have a higher risk of also developing it. 
  • Age and Gender – Studies have shown that men are at higher risk of having hypertension than women until age 64, but women are at higher risk from 65 years and above.
  • Unhealthy Lifestyle –  Too much alcohol, lack of exercise, and smoking increases your risk of developing hypertension. Too much alcohol may cause arrhythmia and heart failure, which raises the risk of hypertension. Regular exercise helps to reduce your chances of having cardiovascular disease, and consequently hypertension. 
  • Medication – Some medicines, herbal drugs and over the counter medicine sometimes increase the risk of having hypertension.
  • Ethnicity/Race – Studies have shown that African Americans are at higher risk of developing hypertension than other races in the United States. 

The Link Between Migraine and Hypertension

This section shows the relationship between headaches, migraine, and hypertension.

Can a Migraine Cause Hypertension?

Yes, based on previous scientific studies, patients suffering from migraines have a higher tendency to develop hypertension. Excluding elderly patients in the study, elevated diastolic blood pressure readings were linked to migraines. Further studies are needed to determine whether hypertension causes migraines. However, poor control of hypertension can increase the frequency and severity of a migraine. 12

Can Hypertension Cause a Headache? 

Science has proven that there is a high possibility of developing headaches after experiencing high blood pressure. Research previously conducted in a large population showed that there is an inverse relationship between blood pressure and headache. 13

What Does a Headache Feel Like with Hypertension? 

Hypertension cannot typically be diagnosed based on symptoms, except when tested first. So most of the time, when the blood pressure is very high beyond 180/120mmHg and the person is experiencing a headache, it is referred to as a hypertensive crisis. A hypertensive crisis is a serious emergency, and medical help must be called for immediately. Headaches with hypertension are not just felt on one side of the head but all over the head with a throbbing sensation. 14

The Consequences of Hypertension

Hypertension should be treated immediately once diagnosed. It is better to consult your doctor for immediate treatment, as hypertension if uncontrolled, can increase your risk of experiencing life-threatening diseases, such as heart attacks, heart failures, strokes, kidney diseases, angina-chest pains, and various blood vessel diseases. 15,16


Hypertension is a silent killer that increases the risk of a more life-threatening disease. If your experience constant headaches or any symptoms of hypertension consult with your GP or doctor. Also, keep up with regular blood pressure check-ups especially if you are above 40.


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  3. Headaches: types, symptoms, causes, diagnosis & treatment [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. [cited 2022 Apr 21]. Available from:
  4. Migraine [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Apr 28]. Available from:
  5. Headache disorders [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 21]. Available from:
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  8. CDC. Know your risk for high blood pressure | cdc. Gov [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020 [cited 2022 Apr 21]. Available from:
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  12. Wang YF, Wang SJ. Hypertension and migraine: time to revisit the evidence. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2021 Jul 16;25(9):58.
  13. Fagernæs CF, Heuch I, Zwart JA, Winsvold BS, Linde M, Hagen K. Blood pressure as a risk factor for headache and migraine: a prospective population-based study. Eur J Neurol. 2015 Jan;22(1):156–62, e10-11
  14. Does high blood pressure cause headaches or other symptoms? [Internet]. Harvard Health. 2019 [cited 2022 Apr 30]. Available from:
  15. Health threats from high blood pressure [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 21]. Available from:
  16. High blood pressure (Hypertension) - Diagnosis [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Apr 21]. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Taiwo Olawumi

Master of Science - Environmental and Public Health Management, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
Taiwo is passionate about environmental and public health management and has experience working with animals. Her goal is to create a more sustainable environment in all facets of life.

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