Why You May Have a Headache on Top of Your Head

A young women in bed with a headache on top of head

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Headaches on the top of your head may have many different causes ranging from tension, migraine, or occipital neuralgia (a neurological condition in which the nerves that run through the scalp are injured or inflamed).

Other reasons like stress and poor posture can also cause these types of headaches since the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and scalp can tense up when you feel stressed or anxious.

A headache on the top of your head may feel different for different people, but these are the most common symptoms:

  • Pressure on the top of your head
  • A dull ache
  • Neck and shoulder tightness
  • Nausea  

In most cases, a headache in the top part of your head isn’t a cause for concern, but if the headache is severe, persists, or it occurs with other symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider. 

Here are some of the most common causes of a headache on the top of your head.


When your body’s fluids are low, your brain and other tissues in your body shrink (contract). As your brain shrinks, it pulls away from the skull, puts pressure on nerves, and causes pain.

Replenishing with fluids can help the protective cushion surrounding your brain to expand and may help relieve your headache. This is why it is important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the day. 

Sleep Deprivation

When you don't get enough sleep, your body has to work extra hard to stay alert and focused. When this happens, your body has problems controlling the release of hormones that impact sleep. This imbalance can add to or cause headaches.

You may also feel irritable or moody when tired, which can lead to tension headaches. Tension headaches occur when muscles in the head and neck become tense from stress or lack of sleep. Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep at night and avoid caffeine late in the day.

Side Effects of Medication

Some drugs are too strong, or your body may be sensitive to them, causing a headache on top of your head. Taking too much of a drug can also have this effect. Some drugs dilate the blood vessels in the head, which can cause a rush of blood to the head, which can lead to a headache as well. 

Headaches can sometimes be caused by taking more than one medication at the same time. If you think that your medication might be the cause of your headaches, speak to your doctor about other possible options or changes.

Sinus Infections Or Allergies

The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the skull. Inflammation or congestion from an infection or allergies can lead to headaches.

Your sinuses can get inflamed and blocked with mucus, causing pressure in the head that can trigger a headache. Most of the time, these headaches are usually around or behind your eye, or you might have pain in your face overall. 

Rare Causes of a Headache On Top of Your Head

Headaches on top of your head may also be caused by rare conditions such as: 

  • Brain tumors: Tumors are swelling caused by an abnormal growth of tissue, whether benign or malignant. Malignant tumors grow and spread quickly, while benign ones grow more slowly and do not spread.
  • Aneurysms: These are bulges or balloon-like weak spots in the wall of an artery in the brain. Aneurysms can form when there's a flaw in the artery wall, which may cause it to stretch and bulge. If a brain aneurysm bursts, it can cause bleeding in the brain (known as a hemorrhagic stroke). This may cause difficulty speaking, vision changes, loss of consciousness, and even death.
  • Bleeding in the brain: This may happen when blood escapes from an artery or vein and enters the brain tissue. This can happen due to a head injury, aneurysm, stroke, tumor, or some other disease.

While these are not common causes of headaches on top of your head, it’s important to be aware of them. These can be life-threatening and require emergency medical attention.

How To Treat a Headache on Top of Your Head

There are a few things you can do at home or outside the doctor’s office to relieve a headache on top of your head:

  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Motrin (ibuprofen).
  • Take a look at your posture. Relaxing your body, especially the muscles in your neck, shoulders, and scalp, can help relieve tension headaches. Use proper posture when sitting and standing. Avoid slouching.
  • Try breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to help reduce stress.
  • Consider complementary therapies such as massage, yoga, or acupuncture.
  • Apply a cold pack or warm compress to the affected area. This can help reduce inflammation and pressure.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.

When To See a Healthcare Provider

If your headaches are frequent and don’t respond to home remedies, seek medical attention. Your healthcare provider may recommend drugs such as anti-inflammatories or preventive treatments. They can also help determine if there is an underlying condition causing your headaches.

Seek medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe, sudden headache
  • A headache that feels worse when you bend over or change positions
  • Headache accompanied by vision changes, confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding speech, weakness on one side of the body, or numbness.

A Quick Review

Headaches on top of your head are usually caused by stress and poor posture, but can also be related to dehydration, sleep deprivation, sinus infections or allergies, and certain medications. 

You can treat a headache on top of your head with OTC pain relievers, relaxation techniques, and cold or warm compresses. If your headache is frequent and does not respond to home remedies, seek advice from a healthcare provider. They can help diagnose the underlying cause of your pain and develop the best treatment plan for you.

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14 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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