What You Should Know About Frontal Lobe Headaches

Medically reviewed by Graham Rogers, MD on March 17, 2017Written by Marjorie Hecht on March 17, 2017

What are frontal lobe headaches?

Almost everyone has had a headache at some point in life. A frontal lobe headache is when there is mild to severe pain in your forehead or temples. Most frontal lobe headaches result from stress.

This type of headache usually occurs from time to time and is called episodic. But sometimes, the headaches can become chronic. The National Institute of Neurological and Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines a chronic headache as one that occurs more than 14 times per month.

How can you tell if it's a frontal lobe headache?

A frontal lobe headache feels like something is pressing on both sides of your head, with mild to moderate pain. Some people describe it like a vise or belt tightening around your head. Sometimes the pain can be more severe.

Some areas of your body may feel tender, such as your scalp, head, and shoulder muscles.

A frontal lobe headache doesn't cause nausea and other symptoms of migraine headaches. It is also not affected by:

  • physical activity
  • noise
  • light
  • odor

What causes a frontal lobe headache?

Frontal lobe headaches have many possible triggers. The most frequent trigger is stress. Some headaches seem to run in families. So, genetics may be involved. Other triggers can include:

  • sinus infection
  • jaw or neck pain
  • allergies
  • eye strain from computer use
  • insomnia or other sleep disorders
  • certain foods, such as meats with nitrates
  • alcohol, especially red wine
  • dehydration
  • depression and anxiety
  • weather changes
  • poor posture
  • tension

When should you seek help?

Most headaches are benign and don't require a visit to a doctor. These are called primary headaches, and they make up more than 90 percent of headache complaints, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

If your headaches are chronic and interfere with your daily activities, see a doctor. The Cleveland Clinic notes that chronic tension-type headaches affect only 2 percent of the population, but account for many doctor visits and missed days of work.

Other headaches, called secondary headaches, have symptoms for which you should see a doctor or go to the emergency room. Secondary headaches may have serious underlying problems that are causing the headache. Seek help if your headache is:

  • sudden and severe
  • new but persistent, especially if you're older than 50
  • the result of a head injury

You should also see a doctor if you have a headache and any of the following:

  • a stiff neck
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • weakness
  • double vision
  • loss of consciousness
  • shortness of breath
  • convulsions

Keeping track of symptoms

It may be helpful to keep a headache log to note your headache dates and circumstances. If you talk to a doctor, they’ll want to know:

  • when your frontal lobe headaches started
  • how long they last
  • what type of pain you have
  • where the pain is located
  • how severe the pain is
  • what you've been taking for pain
  • whether specific activities or environmental conditions affect the pain
  • whether there are any triggers you can identify

How is frontal lobe headache treated?

Treatment will depend on the severity of your headache and the possible triggers. Most frontal lobe headaches can be treated with OTC pain medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve). There are also OTC combination drugs. These include a pain killer and a sedative or caffeine. Be aware, though, that overuse of some headache remedies can make your headaches worse.

Other headache remedies are geared to help you relax and reduce stress. Avoid any particular stress triggers that you have identified. Establish a daily routine that includes regularly scheduled meals and enough sleep. Other stress-busting remedies include:

  • a hot shower or bath
  • massage
  • physical therapy
  • yoga or meditation
  • regular exercise

For chronic or severe headaches

If your headaches are chronic, the doctor may refer you to a psychotherapist or psychologist for counseling. You can work together to resolve stress problems and learn biofeedback and stress reduction techniques.

For more severe chronic headaches, the doctor or therapist may prescribe other drugs, such as muscle relaxants. If depression is a factor in triggering your headaches, the doctor may prescribe an antidepressant. Antidepressants and muscle relaxants do not have an instantaneous effect. They may take some time to build up in your system, so be patient.

In some cases, you may have more than one type of headache and several different medications may be prescribed. If your headaches persist after initial treatment, the doctor may order brain imaging tests to make sure there are no other possible causes of pain, such as a tumor or aneurysm. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) are commonly used for brain imaging.

Are there any complications?

Treatments for headaches can cause complications in some cases.

Overmedication, or using OTC drugs regularly for headache pain, is a frequent problem. Drug overuse can make your headaches worse, as can abruptly stopping the use of these drugs. This is something to discuss with your doctor.

If you are prescribed antidepressants, you may have side effects such as:

  • sleepiness in the morning
  • weight gain
  • dry mouth
  • constipation

What can you do to prevent headaches?

Keep a log of your headaches to try to figure out what triggers them, such as:

  • irregular sleep
  • certain foods and drinks
  • particular activities
  • interpersonal situations

Try to avoid these triggers as best you can.

Use relaxation techniques. If you sit at a desk all day or work at a computer, take frequent breaks to stretch and rest your eyes. Correct your posture so that you are not straining your neck and shoulder muscles.

Other potential nondrug headache prevention methods include acupuncture and supplements such as butterbur and coenzyme Q-10. The research for some of these is promising.

What’s the outlook?

More research is needed to find other treatments for these headaches and to evaluate what works best. According to the Cleveland Clinic, headache clinics do not yet have definitive data comparing treatment results.

Most frontal lobe headaches get better quickly with OTC drugs and relaxation. For more frequent and painful headaches, see a doctor. The doctor can prescribe a combination of other medications and therapy that is likely to provide relief for you.

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