Throbbing Headache and Pulsating Head Pain – Causes

What Is a Throbbing Headache?

A throbbing headache is a head pain pulsating in a rhythm of the heart.

Causes of Throbbing Headache


  • Exertion
  • Flu or other infection
  • Hangover
  • Allergic reaction
  • Tooth abscess
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Medications
    • Avelox (antibiotic), bactrim, chlorpropamide, diltiazem (and other calcium-chanel blockers), disulfiram-alcohol reaction, epinefrine, glipizide, isosorbide, Mirena (intrauterine contraceptive device), moclobemide, nitrates (nitroglycerin and isosorbide mono- and di-nitrate), omeprazol, vasopressin, vitamin A overdose
    • Medication withdrawal: ergotamine (Cafergot), amphetamine, methysergide
  • Poisoning
    • Spoiled fish (scombroid poisoning) causing throbbing headache and flushing (3)
    • Carbon monoxide (CO) from faulty heaters, gas-powered cleaning machines…: throbbing frontal headache, tiredness, confusion, irritability (4)
    • Toxic metals: arsenic, copper, lead
    • Benzene
    • Carbon tetrachloride
    • Cleaning products, solvents, pesticides
    • Dynamite (nitroglycerin)
  • Heat stroke: high body temperature, red, hot, dry skin, but no sweating, rapid pulse, throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, unconsciousness
  • Lumbar puncture, contrast imaging of vessels (angiography)
  • Hypnic headache wakening you up and lasting for up to 15 minutes
  • High altitude (mountain) sickness
  • Dissection or thrombosis of carotid, vertebral or basilar artery (1)
  • Arteriovenous malformation (AVM) in the brain
  • Preeclampsia and eclampsia: high blood pressure and seizures during pregnancy or delivery
  • High blood pressure can, rarely, when suddenly increased, cause throbbing pain in temples or in the back of the head

EPISODIC Throbbing Headache

  • Migraine, triggered by strong scents, monosodium glutamate – MSG (in soy sauce in Chinese restaurants), sodium nitrite (hot dog headache), red wine, noises, stress…Symptoms include throbbing one-sided headache, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light.
  • Sleep apnea – a sleep disorder with throbbing morning headache (2)
  • Throbbing headache after seizures
  • Decreased serotonin levels in the blood
  • Refractive errors
  • Basilar artery migraine, triggered by menstruation in young obese females.
  • Cluster headache. Attacks of intense, throbbing one-sided headache, lasting for several minutes and repeating once or more times in a day, several days or weeks in a row.
  • Short-lasting, Unilateral, Neuralgiform headache attacks with Conjunctival injection and Tearing (SUNCT) – brief recurrent bursts of throbbing head pain, usually one sided, around the eye or temple, watery, reddish eyes, and runny nose.

CONSTANT Throbbing Headache

  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Temporal arteritis – an inflammation of the temporal artery usually causes severe, throbbing pain and tenderness on one side of the head, low grade fever
  • Shingles
  • Carotidynia – inflammation of the carotid artery. Throbbing pain and tenderness on one side of the neck and head
  • Structural abnormalities in the head or neck, like Chiari malformation or syringomyelia
  • New Daily Persistent Headache (NDPH) without a known cause

Related Articles:


  1. Dissection of the carotid artery  (
  2. Sleep apnea and throbbing headache  (
  3. Scombroid fish poisoning, throbbing headache and flushing (picture)  (
  4. Substances related headache  (
About Jan Modric (209 Articles)
Health writer