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When to Go to the ER for a Migraine

Going to the ER for a migraine may seem daunting, especially with the noise and bright lights that may cause sensory overload. You may also think that a migraine is not “worth” going to the ER for, but in the case of a persistent or severe migraine, getting emergency medical care can make a significant difference, whether your migraine is an isolated issue or the sign of a different health concern.

Common migraine triggers include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Bright lights, loud noises, or strong smells
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Certain foods or medications
  • Changes in hormones
  • Strenuous physical activity
  • Changes in the weather

Whether your migraines are chronic, or this is your first time experiencing one, knowing what symptoms to watch out for and how the ER can help you recover is helpful.

Symptoms Requiring Emergency Medical Attention

Even a “normal” migraine may feel exhausting, but certain symptoms indicate that your condition requires a trip to the ER. If your migraine is more severe than usual, happened abruptly, lasts several hours or days, and does not respond well to medication, you should go to the nearest ER to get appropriate medical care.

Consider going to the ER if your migraine symptoms include:

  • A high fever
  • Neck stiffness
  • Breathing issues
  • Severe dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Confusion, changes in awareness, memory loss
  • Difficulty speaking or seeing
  • Muscle weakness or loss of balance
  • Paralysis
  • Lasting diarrhea or vomiting

If possible, write down your symptoms so you can readily share them with a doctor.

Your Migraine May Be a Symptom of Another Condition

Going to the ER for a particularly debilitating migraine can also help determine whether your migraine attack is the main health concern or if it is a sign of something else. Seeking medical attention at the ER allows you to get proper testing and treatment no matter what your health issue is.

Have you recently experienced any trauma to the head? Your migraine could be due to a concussion. After a vehicle, sport, or work accident, you may want to get checked for non-visible injuries, especially if they involved trauma to the head, neck, or spine. This helps minimize the risk of complications for the brain and other parts of the body.

ER professionals can also figure out whether your symptoms are due to a migraine or a stroke, as both can share similar signs including headache, numbness, and loss of vision.

If you are pregnant and are experiencing a severe or abnormal migraine, this can indicate preeclampsia or other dangerous complications that can impact your baby’s health. Getting immediate medical care and a timely treatment can keep you and your baby safe.

How Does the ER Treat Migraines?

The ER can use different diagnostic techniques to evaluate your condition depending on your symptoms. If yours are abnormal, they can request brain imaging to ensure you are not experiencing an aneurysm or a stroke. If your symptoms are persistent or unresponsive to previous medication, but considered normal, the doctor can ask you questions about your pain and current medicines.

You may receive one or more medications for pain relief, and the ER staff can often administer them either intravenously or intramuscularly.

ER doctors can treat migraines with:

  • Nausea and pain relief medications
  • Nonsteroidal drugs or steroids to reduce inflammation
  • Sumatriptan for rapid migraine relief
  • Fluids via IV to prevent or alleviate dehydration

If you keep a medical record including your doctor’s contact information, lists of current medications and allergies, make sure to bring it with you to the ER. Taking a water bottle to stay hydrated is also a smart precaution. Wearing tinted glasses can alleviate some of the sensory overload caused by the bright lights at the ER.

We recommend that you have someone with you. They can help you go to the ER and take you back home later. This person can help share information about your symptoms with the ER staff. Their presence can also offer moral support which can minimize your stress.

If you are suffering from a severe or persistent migraine, contact Advance ER at (214) 494-8222 to talk to a medical professional.