Secondary Headaches

Neuromuscular Dentist in Chicago, IL Accepting Patients Nationwide & Worldwide

What Diseases Cause Secondary Headaches?

Secondary headaches are signs or symptoms of potentially more serious medical conditions. These diseases, which cause secondary headaches, may be life-threatening and should be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible.

There are countless conditions that may lead to a secondary headache. These conditions are typically grouped in eight major classifications.


Trauma of the head or neck – Obviously, head and neck trauma can lead to headache or pinpoint pain. The trauma can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. Some examples include:

  • Concussion
  • Whiplash
  • Brain contusion

A recent article in the Journal of the American Dental Association showed that there is frequently a delay of 6-12 months before diagnosis of the TM joint-related pain and masticatory muscle pain following a motor vehicle accident.

Vascular issues of the head or neck – Problems with the blood vessels of the head and neck may prevent oxygen delivery to the brain, including:

  • Stroke
  • TIA (transient ischemic attack)
  • Carotid artery disease
  • Inflammation of arteries of the head and neck

Non-vascular problems of the brain – These are conditions that are not related to the vascular system, such as:

  • Tumors
  • Seizures
  • Excessive cerebral spinal fluid pressure

Medication problems – Over-medication or inappropriate mixtures of medications can lead to headaches. This may include withdraw symptoms of illegal or prescription medications.

Infection – Viral or bacterial infections of the head and neck including:

  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • AIDS
  • Pneumonia or other systemic infection

Imbalance in body's systems – The body is meant to maintain homeostasis; when the body becomes imbalanced, headaches are common. Some of the causes include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Renal failure
  • Thyroid problems
  • Allergy problems
  • Sleep disorders, especially sleep apnea

Issues with the eyes, ears, nose, or throat – The most common complaint relates to the trigeminal nerve and issues with temporomandibular joint disorder or TMD.

Are Headaches in Your Head?

Psychiatric disorders may also cause secondary headaches. Unfortunately, pain problems can also cause psychiatric disorders.

A major problem for many patients is that their doctors assume that the patient’s psychological state is the cause of the pain.  It is vitally important to differentiate between psychosomatic headaches and somatopsychic headaches.

  • Psychosomatic: In the simplest terms a psychosomatic pain means “I am crazy and therefore I hurt.”
  • Somatopsychic: Would translate into “my pain is making me crazy.” If you are in constant pain all of the time it is normal to become depressed. The depression is secondary to the pain, not the cause.

As a patient, if you present to a doctor with symptoms of pain and the dentist treats you but act as if it is psychosomatic, it is time to find a new doctor unless you are seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist. 

Patients with somatopsychic pain quickly recover from depression if the pain was the cause of them being depressed.

Identifying the Cause of Secondary Headaches

Proper diagnosis of the underlying problem or condition is important to addressing your headache symptoms and relieving the pain. Secondary headaches often present themselves in the same manner as other headaches and you may not always be able to tell that there is something more serious going on.

The doctor may order tests to isolate the problem in order to come to a correct diagnosis and a course for treatment. Tests may include the following:

A neuromuscular dentist treating headaches will also do a series of tests that may include:

  • Radiographic studies of the jaws
  • Studies of the jaw joints
  • Studies of the sinuses
  • Studies of the teeth
  • EMG evaluation of the muscles of the jaw and neck to evaluate health and function of the muscles
  • Computerized mandibular scans (CMS or MKG) to evaluate movement and function of the jaws.
  • Diagnostic application of TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) to evaluate the effect of gently and comfortably relaxing the jaw muscles on jaw position.

These may be vitally important in arriving at the correct treatment decisions.

Once a proper diagnosis is made, your doctor can treat your condition properly. If you suspect that your headache is more than just a common tension headache, see your doctor to rule out any more serious and possibly life-threatening condition. I don’t treat tests; I treat patients.

Many doctors have become guilty of treating tests rather than patients. It is important to remember that the tests are only a small part of the examination process. Prior to the widespread use of testing dentists had to rely on the art of medicine for diagnosis and treatment. Intuition has always had a distinct place in medicine and test results often mark the end of the thinking process today. This is unfortunate because listening to the patient is a requirement to a complete evaluation as is the examination. It has been said that “technology has become an omniscient deity that we put our faith in.”

Why Visit a Dentist for Headache Treatment

Testing is valuable but only part of the process. Neuromuscular dentists are especially known to do extensive testing that is essential for treatment protocols but it never replaces patient interaction.

An example of testing and statistics can have adverse effects for some headache patients is thyroid testing.  When the dentist receives a report, it has marked whether the level is in the high, low or normal range. Most dentists ignore any “normal” results. The problem is that those normal findings are not for this patient, they are normal for average patients. They may be high or low for this individual patient. Patients who are “borderline low” in thyroid have more frequent headache and muscle problems. 

Another problem with testing and statistics is you see only what is tested for. Many patients with low thyroid are given Synthroid as medication. Synthroid is the inactive form of (T3) of thyroid but it will normalize blood tests.  Many patients are not capable of turning the T4 form of thyroid into the active T3 form. Their blood tests are now normal but their function is not. Testing for free T3 would be an improvement but the results are still for a population not an individual patient. Patients with low T3 should consider a natural thyroid hormone such as Armour Thyroid.

For more classification information and headache causes of secondary headaches, contact neuromuscular dentist Dr. Ira L. Shapira at 1-847-533-8313 for a personalized evaluation.