Categories: Neurology

When to know Headache is serious?

We all often get headaches. Most of the time, headaches may not be due to serious health issues. Instead, they can be due to dehydration, lack of sleep, stress, migraines, or allergic cough and cold.

Headaches can be painful and stop us from doing our work. But, we don’t take them seriously. Instead of consulting the doctor, sometimes we prefer over-the-counter drugs and get instant relief.

It may have adverse effects in the long run.

Let’s understand when the headache becomes life-threatening and needs urgent medical attention.

Headaches that may require immediate medical attention

A headache is a pain in your head, neck, and face area. When you suffer from other symptoms along with a headache, immediately consult your doctor. Your headache becomes a worrying issue if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Thunderclap headache: Sudden intense headache that peaks within 60 seconds and last up to 5 minutes.
  • Headache accompanied by symptoms such as blurred vision or light around objects (auras)
  • Headache with speaking difficulties
  • Headaches getting worsen with time
  • Sudden and severe headache
  • Fever and stiffness in the neck area, nausea, and vomiting
  • Headache associated with nosebleed
  • Pain that worsens while changing position or that can even wake you up from deep sleep
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Headache associated with weakness or numbness on one side of the face or one side of the body
  • Difficulty in walking or loss of balance while walking
  • If you feel confused and have difficulty in understanding what people are talking about
  • Trouble in hearing
  • If you feel a headache after some exertion or after sneezing and coughing
  • A tender area on your head
  • Headaches associated with night sweats or unexplained loss in weight

Which medical conditions can cause headaches?

Headache can occur due to dehydration, flu, muscle strain, side effects of drugs, drug withdrawals, toothache, alcohol hangover, or hormonal changes.

But, headache can be a symptom of some severe illnesses or conditions such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Stress
  • sinusitis
  • Heatstroke
  • Migraine
  • Meningitis
  • Cerebral stroke
  • Brain abscess
  • Concussion or any head injury
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Brain cancer
  • Brain aneurysm
  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Infections such as Lyme disease

Treatment of headache

Headache is one of the most common pain-causing conditions worldwide. If you or your child has frequent headache episodes, consult your doctor immediately. Treatment of a headache depends on the root cause of the headache. Your doctor will take your medical history and do an extensive physical examination in case of any injury. To find the correct cause of headache, your doctor can suggest a few diagnostic tests such as:

  • Vision and eye test
  • Ear examination
  • Blood investigation
  • Spinal fluid test
  • CT scan
  • MRI scanning
  • Electroencephalography (EEG)

After diagnosis, your doctor prescribes an appropriate treatment regimen such as:

  • Rest and applying heat or cold packs on the head may help you with headaches.
  • Counseling and stress management: Stress can also be a trigger factor for your headache. A psychiatrist’s counseling and stress management techniques can help you.
  • If your headache is due to high blood pressure, proper medication, regular blood pressure monitoring, and diet modification can improve symptoms.
  • Pre-eclampsia is a life-threatening condition. Headache in the third trimester of pregnancy can be a symptom of pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. It is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in pregnant ladies and newborns. So get immediate treatment if you are suffering from severe headaches during pregnancy.
  • In case of migraines, your doctor suggests combination therapy.
  • One needs immediate medical attention for headaches due to emergencies such as stroke, brain aneurysm, or brain hemorrhage. The treatment of these conditions is complex. Prognosis becomes very good with correct diagnosis and prompt treatment.
  • Headaches may also be a symptom of brain infections caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites. Treatment of a brain infection depends on the causative agent. It includes antibiotics, antiviral medications, and corticosteroids.

Most of the time, headaches may not be the cause of concern. However,  sometimes headaches may be a symptom of a life-threatening disease or condition. Whatever is the reason, go for medical advice if you are suffering from headaches frequently.

Dr. Amit Shrivastava, Senior Consultant – NeurologyDharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, New Delhi

Narayana Health

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