Pressure In Head: Causes

By Shaffer, Michael
By Spader, Catherine, RN

What causes pressure in the head?

A feeling of pressure in the head can be caused by a wide array of mild-to-serious injuries, diseases or conditions.

Causes of head pressure or headache

The most common causes of a feeling of pressure in the head or headache are:

  • Allergies

  • Common cold and other upper respiratory infections

  • Ear infections

  • Migraine headache

  • Muscle tension in the neck, jaw or shoulders

  • Sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses often due to infection or allergies)

  • Stress

  • Tension headache

Serious conditions that can cause increased intracranial pressure

Increased intracranial pressure is a serious condition in which there is higher-than-normal pressure inside the skull. Its causes include:

  • Brain aneurysm (weak area in a brain blood vessel that can rupture and bleed)

  • Brain tumor causing pressure within the head

  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain commonly due to infection)

  • Head injury

  • Brain hemorrhage or hematoma (bleeding in the brain due to such causes as head trauma, stroke, or taking blood thinners)

  • Hydrocephalus (high levels of fluid in the brain or water on the brain)

  • Intracranial hypertension (abnormally high pressure of the cerebrospinal fluid in the skull)

  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)

  • Seizure disorder

  • Temporal arteritis (inflammation of blood vessels in the head)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of pressure in the head

A feeling of pressure in the head can be caused by a mild condition, such as a tension headache, or it may signal a serious health problem. To diagnose and best treat your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your head pressure including:

  • In what part of the head do you feel pain or discomfort?

  • How long have you had the pain or discomfort?

  • Have you experienced any recent head injury or trauma?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

What are the potential complications of pressure in the head?

The potential complications of a sensation of head pressure or medically-diagnosed increased intracranial pressure vary depending on the underlying cause. Because a feeling of pressure in the head can be due to serious or life-threatening conditions in some cases, failure to seek treatment might result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Coma

  • Disability and poor quality of life due to chronic headaches

  • Paralysis

  • Permanent brain damage, including intellectual and cognitive deficits and difficulties moving and speaking

  • Respiratory arrest

  • Seizures

  • Stroke


  1. Acute Otitis Media. JAMA.
  2. Hydrocephalus Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
  3. Headache. Intracranial Hypertension Research Foundation.
  4. Increased Intracranial pressure. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  5. Migraine. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH.
  6. NINDS Migraine Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

What is pressure in the head?

Pressure in the head is a sensation of tightness, throbbing or pain affecting the head, which includes the face, scalp, skull and brain. Pressure in the head may frequently be described as a headache and can affect all or just a portion of the head.

... Read more about pressure in headintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with pressure in the head?

Pressure in the head can be accompanied by other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition, a person’s age, and individual factors. In some cases, symptoms may also involve other body systems, such as the cardiovascular, digestive and respiratory systems. For instance, a migraine headache is often accompanied by Read more about pressure in headsymptoms

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 8, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves