Exertion headaches, also known as exercise headaches, are a type of head pain triggered by strenuous physical activities such as running, weightlifting, coughing, sexual intercourse, or even straining on the toilet. They are caused by increased blood pressure in the blood vessels in the brain which puts pressure on the meninges (small nerves that cover the brain).
These headaches are described as throbbing and are usually bilateral – affecting both sides of the head. They can have symptoms similar to migraines, such as nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. The headache usually begins during or shortly after the activity and the pain generally lasts from five minutes to 48 hours.
Exertion headaches are divided into two categories.
Primary exertion headaches are usually harmless and not caused by underlying medical problems.
Secondary exertion headaches are caused by an underlying medical problem such as bleeding or a tumour in or outside the brain. They should not be ignored and need emergency medical attention.