Why Does My Head Feel Heavy?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on November 1, 2017Written by Jacquelyn Cafasso on November 1, 2017

A heavy feeling in the head can make getting through the day particularly difficult. You may feel like you can’t hold your head up, or it might feel like you have a tight band around your head. A heavy head is often associated with:

  • tiredness
  • brain fog
  • headaches
  • neck pain
  • dizziness
  • pressure in the face and head

A head that feels heavy can be a symptom of many different conditions, so pinpointing the exact cause of a heavy feeling in the head can be challenging. You’ll need to assess your other symptoms and recent life events to help you figure out why your head feels heavy.

What causes your head to feel heavy?

There are many different possible causes of a head that feels heavy. These range from mild conditions like a headache or sinus infection, to more serious conditions like a concussion or brain tumor. Most often, a head that feels heavy isn’t serious.

Muscle strain

Any injury that causes strain or pain in the muscles of the head and neck can make your head feel heavy and more difficult to hold up. Sports injuries, car accidents, or overexertion of the neck caused by lifting heavy items, can put strain on the neck muscles and lead to a heavy head feeling.

Other symptoms of a muscle strain in the neck include:

  • soreness
  • limited range of movement
  • swelling
  • muscle spasms
  • stiffness
  • weakness

If you sit all day in front of a computer, your neck and eyes might also feel strained due to fatigue. This can lead to feelings of pressure and heavy-headedness. If you work at a computer, make sure to take breaks frequently during the day to rest your neck and eyes. Practicing the 20-20-20 rule can help you prevent eye strain and give you time to rest your neck.

Whiplash

Whiplash results when the muscles and ligaments of your neck reach beyond a normal range of motion. The head moves backward and then forward suddenly with excessive force. Whiplash is most common following a rear-end car accident, but it can also result from amusement park rides, abuse, falls, or sports injuries.

Common symptoms of whiplash include:

  • stiffness in the neck
  • pain
  • headaches near the base of the skull
  • dizziness

The pain and stiffness in the neck associated with whiplash as well as a headache near the base of the skull can make it feel like your head is heavier than normal. Check out more about whiplash and some at-home treatments.

Concussion or head injury

A head injury is any injury to the head, brain, or scalp. One type of head injury called a concussion occurs when your brain bounces against the walls of your skull.

Other signs of a concussion may include:

  • confusion
  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • memory problems
  • blurred vision
  • headache
  • nausea or vomiting
  • sensitivity to light or noise
  • balance problems

Concussion symptoms can persist for weeks or even months post-injury. You may experience symptoms such as headaches, vertigo, fatigue, drowsiness, and blurred vision, which can also lead to a heavier than normal feeling in the head. Find out what concussion signs to look for in children.

Fatigue

In general, fatigue is a feeling of excessive tiredness. You might feel fatigued due to lack of sleep or even because of a hangover, but there are also several medical conditions that can make you feel tired all the time.

Some conditions that may make you feel this way include:

In general, excessive tiredness can make it harder to hold up your head all day. You might feel a constant need to lie down or rest. If you feel constant exhaustion along with a heavy feeling in the head, it could be a sign of an underlying health issue. See your doctor if these feelings persist.

Anxiety

Anxiety is the feeling of fear, nervousness, or worry before, during, or after a stressful event. An attack of anxiety can also lead to pressure and heaviness in the head along with a racing heart, sweating, and trouble concentrating. For most people, feelings of anxiety come and go. For others, anxiety can continue and worsen over time. If anxiety interferes with your daily life, you may have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety can cause a heavy head feeling because of a type headache known as a tension headache that is common in people with anxiety disorders. These headaches are often described as feeling like there’s a tight band wrapped around your head. They’re caused by a tightening of the neck and scalp muscles. Learn more about anxiety and how to cope.

Migraines

Migraines are different from headaches. Migraines are more intense, even debilitating, and come with many symptoms in addition to head pain, such as:

  • fatigue
  • sensitivity to light and sound
  • neck stiffness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pulsing and throbbing head pain
  • migraine-associated vertigo

A heavy head feeling can result from the stiff neck, fatigue, and head pain associated with migraines. If you’re experiencing migraines, here’s everything you need to know.

Vestibular problems

A heavy head feeling can be a result of a vestibular disorder. The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that control balance and eye movements.

Symptoms of a vestibular disorder include:

Meniere’s disease is a type of vestibular disorder that affects the inner ear. On top of vertigo, Meniere’s disease can also cause a sense of fullness in the ear known as aural fullness, which may also make you feel like your head is heavy.

Allergies

Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, can make your head feel heavy because the symptoms often result in pressure and congestion in the head.

Common symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • sneezing
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • itchy throat
  • itchy or watery eyes
  • sinus pressure
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • ear pressure or congestion

Headaches, sinus and ear congestion, and a general sense of poor health can make it feel like your head is heavier than usual. Learn the causes, treatments, and home remedies for allergic rhinitis.

Sinus infection

A sinus infection, also called sinusitis, occurs when the nasal cavities become inflamed. Sinusitis is usually caused by a virus, and may be part of a cold. Sinus infections can also be caused by bacteria or rarely a fungal infection of the sinuses.

A sinus infection can cause facial pressure and pain, as well as nasal congestion and headaches. These symptoms are sometimes also described as heavy-headedness. Knowing the symptoms of sinusitis can help you better to treat it.

Brain tumor

It’s important to know that brain tumors are exceedingly rare.

A heavy head may be one of the symptoms of a brain tumor because of the pressure that the tumor creates in the skull. There will likely be other symptoms, such as:

  • frequent headaches
  • seizures
  • nausea and vomiting
  • vision or hearing problems
  • weakness of the arms, legs, or face muscles
  • behavioral and cognitive issues, like poor memory or an inability to concentrate

How to treat heaviness in the head

Treatment depends on the underlying condition. You should tell your doctor about any other symptoms you’re experiencing along with head heaviness. Your doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical exam. They may also do some blood tests to check for other conditions, like anemia or a thyroid disorder.

Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may refer you to a neurologist to look for brain abnormalities or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor to check for inner ear problems.

If your head heaviness is caused by fatigue, malnutrition, or dehydration, make sure you’re:

Ice, stretching, massage, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications can help treat neck strain.

Your doctor may also prescribe medications to treat certain conditions. For example:

  • preventive medications for migraines
  • supplements to treat iron-deficiency anemia or other vitamin deficiencies
  • antihistamines and decongestants to treat allergies or sinus infections
  • thyroid hormone medications
  • anti-anxiety medications
  • drugs to treat vertigo

Of course, whether or not your doctor chooses to prescribe a medication will depend on your diagnosis.

When to see a doctor

Most of the time, a heavy feeling in the head won’t be the only symptom you have. Along with a head that feels heavier than normal, you should see your doctor right away if you experience any of these other symptoms:

  • a headache that worsens or doesn’t improve with use of OTC drugs
  • nausea and vomiting if not clearly related to a hangover or flu
  • recurring episodes of fainting
  • chest pain
  • a sudden, severe headache
  • an abrupt change in speech, vision, or hearing
  • shortness of breath
  • high fever
  • a very stiff neck or muscle pain in the neck that doesn’t resolve in a week
  • seizures
  • difficulty walking
  • unequal pupil size
  • abnormal eye movement
  • loss of consciousness
  • anxiety that interferes with daily life
  • suicidal thoughts

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline, or call 911. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

If you’ve recently been in an accident, such as a car accident, or you hit your head, you should see a doctor for an evaluation. You may not feel pain and soreness from an accident right away. After a head injury, you may not know if you have a concussion. It’s important to get checked out for bleeding or swelling in the brain as this can be life-threatening.

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