Why does my head feel heavy, and what can I do about it? (2024)

A heavy feeling in the head may feel like the head is heavy, tired, dragging, and difficult to hold up

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If your head feels heavy, or you may feel some pressure in the head, you may wonder what is causing this feeling. A heavy head could often be due to everyday things such as poor posture or eye strain. A heavy head may also be due to an illness or medical condition, like a sinus condition or migraine headache. Less commonly, a heavy head may be a sign of a more serious condition, such as a brain tumor. Continue reading to learn more about why your head may feel heavy.

Common causes of a heavy head

A heavy head may sometimes be due to everyday factors such as poor posture or dehydration.

Poor posture

When your mom or your teacher told you to sit up straight, they weren’t just being annoying. An average adult’s head in a neutral position weighs about 10 to 12 pounds. However, research shows that as the head tilts forward, it places extra strain on the neck. Holding the head forward at a 30-degree angle can cause your head to feel like it weighs 40 pounds. The more your posture is “off,” the heavier your head gets—up to 60 pounds at a 60-degree angle. Because we spend so much time hunched over smartphones—or sitting at a desk with poor posture—this stress on the neck can take a toll. Experts recommend making an effort to look at devices with a neutral spine and avoid spending time hunched over.

Eye strain

In addition to poor posture associated with smart devices and computer work, digital eye strain could contribute to a heavy head feeling. Digital eye strain is caused by too much time looking at a screen. It can cause headaches, a tense neck or upper back, dry eyes, and blurred vision. It can even affect your mood and attention. Experts estimate that more than one in four people experience headaches from eye strain. Some steps you can take to help reduce eye strain include:

  • Keeping the monitor at least 20 inches from your eyes
  • Wearing blue-light glasses or using a blue-light filter for your monitor
  • Keeping the room bright
  • Enlarging your fonts so they are more comfortable to read
  • Taking breaks: for every two hours spent looking at the screen, take a break for at least 20 minutes, and take shorter breaks every 20 to 30 minutes
  • Sitting up straight

RELATED: Eye health 101: How to protect vision and keep your eyes healthy

Dehydration

If you are dehydrated (not getting enough fluids), you may have a headache, along with other symptoms, such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Extreme thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps

Severe cases of dehydration may require a hospital stay. However, to remedy instances of mild dehydration, you can try:

  • Hydrating: take small sips of water, suck on ice cubes, and drink low-sugar electrolyte drinks
  • Resting
  • Getting out of the sun if you are in the heat
  • Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like Motrin (ibuprofen) for headache pain
  • Applying a cold compress to the head

You can also take steps to prevent dehydration, such as:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids, especially before you feel thirsty
  • Replacing lost fluids
  • Taking breaks to rest when you feel tired or dizzy
  • Drinking extra water and rest if you are in the sun

RELATED: How much water should you drink a day?

Sleep deprivation or too much sleep

Getting the right amount of quality sleep is essential for your body to function properly. Not sleeping enough—or even sleeping too much to make up for lost sleep—can cause migraines. Then, migraine pain can affect your sleep, causing a cycle of migraine headache pain and interrupted sleep. Some tips for sleep issues include:

  • Getting the right amount of sleep (generally, at least 7 hours per night for adults ages 18-60)
  • Practicing sleep hygiene habits such as keeping your room at a comfortable temperature, sleeping on a supportive mattress, and avoiding electronics before bed
  • Staying on a sleep schedule—going to bed and waking up at the same times every day, even on weekends
  • Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and smoking before bed

RELATED: Why is sleep important?

Medical conditions that can cause a heavy head feeling

Certain medical conditions or illnesses can cause a heavy head feeling or headaches. We’ll go over some of the more common ones here.

Migraine and other types of headaches

A migraine is not just a bad headache—it is a neurological condition that affects about 12% of people in the United States. Migraine is sometimes linked with mental health conditions like anxiety disorder or depression. Many people who have migraine attacks will experience throbbing, pulsing pain, often on one side of the head, which can make the head feel heavy and uncomfortable. However, many other symptoms can be associated with a migraine attack, such as:

  • Sensitivity to light, sounds, and smells
  • Stomach issues like nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, stomach pain
  • Appetite loss
  • Feeling very warm or cold
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Scalp tenderness
  • And others

Other types of headaches can also cause head pain and a heavy head feeling, such as:

  • Tension headache: Tension-type headaches often feel like a tight band is wrapped around your head. Pain may occur on both sides of the head and even involve the back of the head and neck. A tension-type headache is the most common type of headache.
  • Cluster headache: This type of headache is less common. It generally causes pain on one side of the head and other symptoms like tearing eyes, a droopy eyelid, and nasal congestion. Cluster headache attacks last 15 minutes to 3 hours and occur daily or almost every day for weeks or months, separated by pain-free intervals of at least one month.
  • Vestibular migraine: Symptoms may include headaches (although not everyone gets a headache) in combination with balance issues such as vertigo (a spinning sensation), loss of balance, motion sickness, nausea, and vomiting. People who also experience hearing loss should be checked for an inner ear condition called Meniere’s disease, a balance disorder that affects hearing.

If you experience migraine or other types of headaches, you should see a neurologist who can devise a medical treatment plan, which will include different things like:

  • A plan for treatment of a migraine attack, such as a triptan medication
  • Tips for home remedies to use in combination with medication, such as resting in a cool, dark, quiet room and staying hydrated
  • Preventive medication, if needed, as well as preventive strategies like keeping a headache journal and identifying and avoiding triggers

Sinus conditions

A sinus infection, or sinusitis, can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungus and occurs when the tissues lining the sinuses become swollen. Symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Pain and pressure around the eyes
  • Tooth pain
  • Facial tenderness
  • Bad breath
  • Loss of smell
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat

Some people have chronic sinusitis. Symptoms are similar to those listed above (but are generally milder) and last for at least 3 months.

Treatment options depend on the type and severity of sinusitis. For acute sinusitis, an antibiotic may be required. Other treatments, such as steroid nasal sprays or OTC pain relievers, may be prescribed or recommended.

People with chronic or more severe sinus conditions may need other treatments, such as allergy shots, oral steroids, or surgery.

In addition to the prescription medication recommended by your doctor, you can try home remedies, such as:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids to help thin mucus
  • Inhaling steam several times a day (try sitting in the bathroom with the door closed and the shower running)
  • Using a cool-mist humidifier
  • Flushing the sinuses with a Neti pot or saline squeeze bottle

Allergies

Allergies do not just make you sneeze. They can also cause various other symptoms, including head pressure and pain. Allergy symptoms may include:

  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath (generally when asthma is also involved)
  • Rashes
  • Fatigue

Allergy treatment may include a variety of methods depending on the type of allergies, symptoms, and severity, such as:

  • Nonmedicinal methods like avoiding allergens and flushing the nose with saline
  • Prescription or OTC antihistamines, nasal steroid sprays, eye drops
  • Allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy

Concussion and head injuries

A concussion is a serious injury. It is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is caused by a bump, jolt, or blow to the head—or by a hit to the body—that results in the head and brain moving back and forth rapidly. Potential causes may include events such as car accidents and whiplash, falls, sports, or abuse. Symptoms may include:

  • Physical symptoms like headache, dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise
  • Cognitive symptoms like problems with focus, attention, and memory
  • Sleep symptoms such as sleeping more or less than usual or having trouble falling asleep
  • Emotional symptoms like anxiety, depression, or panic attacks

A medical professional should immediately see people with a head injury. Then, time should be spent gradually returning to activity under close supervision.

Brain tumor

A brain tumor occurs when abnormal cells grow in the brain’s tissues. Brain tumors can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Brain tumors may start in the brain—or they may begin somewhere else and spread to the brain. Symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Problems with talking, hearing, or vision
  • Balance or movement problems
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Weakness
  • Sleepiness
  • Mood and behavior changes
  • Seizures

Treatment may include a combination of the following:

  • Watching and waiting
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Targeted therapy (drugs that specifically target cancer cells)

Aneurysm

A brain aneurysm, or cerebral aneurysm, is a bulge in a blood vessel in or around the brain. Although most aneurysms are small and do not cause issues, a ruptured brain aneurysm is life-threatening. The first sign of a ruptured brain aneurysm is a severe headache, known as a thunderclap headache. It feels like the worst headache you have ever had. If this occurs, call 911 for immediate medical attention. Other symptoms may include stiff neck muscles, nausea, vomiting, altered vision, sensitivity to light, seizures, pain around the eye, confusion, weakness, numbness, and loss of consciousness. These symptoms require emergency medical attention.

Symptoms of head feeling heavy

Symptoms may vary based on what is causing the headache. For example, suppose your head feels heavy due to dehydration. In that case, you may have a completely different set of symptoms (in addition to headache symptoms) than if your head feels heavy due to a sinus condition.

Generally, if you have a heavy feeling in the head, you may feel like your head is heavy, tired, dragging, and difficult to hold up. You may also have other general symptoms like:

  • Headache or pressure in the head
  • Neck and back pain or pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Facial pain
  • Eye strain or discomfort

Home remedies

You should see a healthcare provider if you have any severe or concerning symptoms—for example, sudden and severe head pain—or a heavy head accompanied by other symptoms such as facial pain. Also, see a healthcare provider if heavy head or headache pain interferes with your daily activities. If your heavy head is due to an underlying medical condition, the medical condition must be treated first. For example, your healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic if you have a sinus infection.

For mild or temporary cases of a heavy head, you can try home treatment, such as:

  • Practice stress management through methods like meditation, yoga, or relaxation
  • Taking time to relax
  • Stretching
  • Improving your posture
  • Taking breaks from screen time
  • Getting enough quality sleep
  • Applying ice or heat to sore muscles to help with muscle strain
  • Physical therapy and exercises for certain conditions
  • Taking OTC pain relievers
  • Staying hydrated

Sources

Why does my head feel heavy, and what can I do about it? (2024)

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