While most headaches are minor, some warn of a serious problem. Here’s when to worry about a headache.
Most headaches are minor, and you can treat them with a pain reliever. Some headaches, however, signal a dangerous or serious medical problem. Don’t ignore unexplained headaches or headaches that steadily worsen.
Get immediate medical attention if your headache:
- Develops suddenly and severely
- Progressively worsens over the course of a single day or persists for several days
- Causes mental confusion or loss of consciousness
Immediate medical attention is also needed if your headache is accompanied by:
- Seizures, dizziness or loss of balance
- Weakness or paralysis, such as in the arms or legs
- Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- A reddened eye
Also seek medical attention if your headache:
- Is accompanied by fever, stiff neck or rash
- Is accompanied by changes in vision, such as blurring or seeing halos around lights
- Is severe and follows a recent sore throat or respiratory infection
- Begins or worsens after a head injury, fall or bump
- Is triggered by changing the position of your head, coughing, sneezing, bending or physical activity
- Is a different type of headache from your usual type and you’re older than 50
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- Stone CK, et al. Headache. In: Current Diagnosis & Treatment: Emergency Medicine. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education; 2017. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com. Accessed Nov. 8, 2018.
- Diagnosis and treatment of headache. Bloomington, Minn.: Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. https://www.icsi.org/guidelines__more/catalog_guidelines_and_more/catalog_guidelines/catalog_neurological_guidelines/headache/. Accessed Nov. 8, 2018.
- Stroke signs and symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/signs_symptoms.htm. Accessed Nov. 8, 2018.
- Wilkinson JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 19, 2018.