It is the most common neurological symptom, with a worldwide prevalence of 50% in adults at least once a year. Headache includes migraine, tension headache and cluster headache, although it can also be secondary if related to another underlying pathology (trauma, infections, etc.). It affects people of all ages, races, income levels and geographic areas equally.

Primary headaches are caused by hyperactivity or disturbances in the pain-sensitive structures of the head. Chemical activity of the brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding the skull, or the muscles of the head and neck (or some combination of these factors) may influence their development.

In addition, they can be triggered by lifestyle factors among them:

  • Alcohol, especially red wine.
  • Certain foods, such as processed meats containing nitrates.
  • Sleep changes or lack of sleep.
  • Poor posture.
  • Skipping meals.
  • stress

Family studies have suggested a heritability of over 40% for both migraine and tension headache. In this context, the largest GWAS performed to date on broad-spectrum headache (75000 cases and 150,000 controls), has identified 28 risk loci. The results suggest that brain function is closely related to headache, as well as to certain psychological factors. These findings will contribute to the understanding of the causes of headache and its subtypes, and its relationship with psychological disorders, as well as providing possible genetic targets for its treatment.


Headache consists of pain in any region on one or both sides of the head, isolated in a particular location or generalized, radiating through the head from one point, or of visceral quality. It may appear as a sharp pain, a throbbing sensation, or a dull ache. Headaches may develop gradually or suddenly, and may last from less than an hour to several days.


Currently there are no measures to prevent the onset of headaches, however, there are several measures that can be taken to reduce and space out the number of outbreaks.

  • Sleep approximately 6 to 8 hours, maintaining a regular schedule both during the working day and on rest days.
  • Eat a balanced diet five times a day on a regular basis. Avoid excessive amounts of sugars, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods, as well as maintaining good hydration.
  • Exercise moderately to reduce stress and stay physically fit. However, excessive, certain types of exercise or inconsistent exercise patterns can be triggers for headaches.
  • Reduce stress, through meditation and other deep relaxation exercises.

Number of observed variants

13.5 million variants

Number of risk loci analyzed in the study

28 loci


Mayo Clinic [March 2022].

Meng W et al. A Genome-Wide Association Study Finds Genetic Associations with Broadly-Defined Headache in UK Biobank (N=223,773). EBioMedicine 2018 Feb;28:180-186.

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