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When to Worry About a Headache: 7 Most Serious Symptoms

At Advance ER, we know that headaches are common, but sometimes serious warning signs. Here's how you'll KNOW when to worry about a headache.

When to Worry About a Headache: 7 Most Serious Symptoms

Here's how you'll KNOW when to worry about a headache.

Headaches are often treated like taxes or bad weather: a minor annoyance that we just have to put up with.

Thankfully, most headaches aren't serious. But what do you do when you have one that is particularly painful or continues to interrupt your daily life?

There are more than 150 different kinds of headaches. It can be difficult to know if what you're experiencing is normal or a warning sign that something more serious is going on.

Read on to learn more about when to worry about a headache.

Woman suffering with headache while working

  • Recurring Headaches
    Chronic headaches are defined as headaches that occur 15 days or more a month for longer than three months. They can disrupt your daily life and be difficult to manage without medical advice.
    Seek medical care if you are regularly having two or more headaches a week and the symptoms are interfering with your daily activities. There are many possible underlying causes. These range from simple tension headaches to serious problems with the brain.
    Your doctor will be able to determine the most likely cause and the best course of treatment. They will help you identify your headache triggers and make changes in your daily routine to reduce your symptoms.

  • Persistent Headaches
    A long-lasting headache can be a miserable experience that often leads to missed days of work or school. However, it is usually not a cause for alarm on its own. If you notice that you have had a headache for a week straight, it may be time to go to the doctors and see what the issue is.
    While a persistent headache isn't automatically a sign of a serious underlying condition, it can be an indicator of a headache disorder. You should seek a professional opinion if you experience a headache that lasts longer than a week.
    If you are having trouble functioning in daily life or have to frequently take medications to manage the pain, talk with your doctor.

  • Changes in Personality or Mental Function
    If you or someone else has an intense headache along with confusion, weakness, or loss of coordination, seek emergency medical help immediately. These symptoms could be the warning signs of a stroke.
    Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke will help you know what to look for. If someone is having trouble walking and speaking, or if they are slurring their speech, get them to the emergency room right away. A stroke left untreated can cause irreversible damage to the brain.
    Your doctor will be able to perform an emergency assessment. Treatment varies depending on the type of stroke.

  • Intense Pain
    If you have a headache that you would describe as being the worst headache of your life, you should seek medical help immediately. Intense, sudden headaches (often called thunderclap headaches) are not always serious, but they can be a sign of a potentially life-threatening condition.
    A sudden and intense headache can indicate an aneurysm or bleeding in the brain. Additional signs of this are blurred vision, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Untreated aneurysms can lead to coma or death.
    Only about 10% of thunderclap headaches are caused by bleeding in the brain but seek medical attention right away. A doctor can order a CT scan to rule out an aneurysm or administer treatment as necessary.

  • Headache with Fever and Stiff Neck
    If you are experiencing fever and a stiff neck in addition to a severe headache, there is a chance you could be suffering from meningitis. Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes. Additional symptoms include muscle pain, vomiting, drowsiness, and a rash.
    Meningitis requires immediate medical attention. Some forms of the illness will go away on their own, but bacterial meningitis progresses quickly and can lead to serious long-term disability or death.
    If you suspect you or someone else may be suffering from meningitis, get medical help immediately. Your doctor will determine the necessary course of treatment.

  • Headache After a Blow to the Head
    Head injuries should always be evaluated by a medical professional. Even if the injury appears to be minor, they should rule out any serious damage that might not be immediately obvious.
    A headache after a blow to the head may not be serious, but it could indicate that you have suffered a concussion or other brain injury. In that case, tests and scans should be conducted to determine the severity.
    Symptoms of a concussion include loss of consciousness, dizziness, nausea, and confusion. If you suspect someone has suffered a concussion, take them to the emergency room immediately. If you are the one affected, have someone drive you. Do not drive yourself.
    You may experience symptoms such as headache and trouble concentrating for up to months after the initial injury. These symptoms generally go away with time and rest, but they should be monitored. Your doctor can help you manage these symptoms.

  • Headache with Nausea and Vomiting
    It is not unusual for nausea and occasional vomiting to happen with a bad headache, especially if you are suffering from a migraine. Migraines are typically associated with symptoms such as vision disturbances and dizziness that can lead to nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are unpleasant and sometimes debilitating, but they are generally not life-threatening and go away with time and treatment.
    If you experience frequent vomiting that goes on for longer than a day or two, it's best to seek medical care. Continued vomiting can cause dehydration, which can lead to serious complications.

When to Worry About a Headache
If your headache goes on for a long time, keeps coming back, or interferes with your life in general, you should consult a medical professional for help managing your discomfort. If you or someone you love has a very severe headache or additional symptoms like confusion and loss of consciousness, it could be an emergency.

Get help immediately.

Headaches can range from annoying to debilitating, but you don't have to suffer. Knowing when to worry about a headache is the first step toward your best health. The next step is knowing when to go to the emergency room for treatment. 

When to Go to the Emergency Room for Headache Treatment? 

First, remember that individual situations can vary and it's always best to consult with a healthcare professional or call (214) 494-8222 our emergency room if you're unsure about the severity of your symptoms.

That being said, there are certain situations where it might be advisable to consider going to the emergency room for headache treatment:

  1. Sudden, severe headache: If you experience an intensely severe headache that comes on suddenly, sometimes described as the "worst headache of your life," it could be a sign of a serious condition such as a ruptured aneurysm or bleeding in the brain. Seek emergency medical care immediately.

  2. Headache after head injury: If you've recently experienced a head injury, such as a fall, and develop a headache along with symptoms like loss of consciousness, confusion, vomiting, or difficulty speaking, it's important to seek medical attention promptly.

  3. New or different headache: If you have a history of headaches but suddenly experience a new or different type of headache, especially if it is accompanied by neurological symptoms like vision changes, weakness, numbness, or difficulty speaking, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional.

  4. Headache with other concerning symptoms: If you have a headache along with symptoms such as fever, neck stiffness, rash, seizures, or changes in mental status, it may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition that requires urgent evaluation.

  5. Chronic headache worsening dramatically: If you have a pre-existing chronic headache condition (e.g., migraines) but experience a sudden and severe worsening of symptoms that is unresponsive to usual treatment measures, it might be appropriate to seek emergency care

If you require professional care, Advance ER medical services will get you on the path to wellness. Call (214) 494-8222 or contact us online for medical care.