Headaches are common enough that when one strikes, most people just pop an aspirin and return to their work. In most cases, this is the right response to a minor health condition, but there are some causes and symptoms in which a headache warrants a visit to the doctor. It isn’t always easy to differentiate between an every day headache and a more serious medical condition, so you may want to err on the side of caution.
What Causes a Headache
Headaches are the result of stimuli to nerves, blood vessels and your brain, but doctors aren’t exactly sure why some stimuli produce headaches and others do not. Because your brain does not generate pain signals itself, the pain sensations common to headaches must originate in the surrounding tissue.
Minor Headache Symptoms
First of all, you should understand what is relatively normal for you and other people. There are a wide variety of headaches—more than 150 classifications—but most of the more commonplace ones present with only mild to moderate pain without other symptoms like nausea or dizziness. There are also some fairly recognizable triggers like stress, illness or environmental stimuli.
Note Changes in Frequency, Intensity or Symptoms
You should also note what a typical headache experience is for you. If you notice a change in frequency, intensity or symptoms, then you are probably better off getting checked out by a health care professional. Many people justify medical changes due to changing circumstances like advancing age or increasing stress, but these could be masking a serious health condition.
More Serious Headache Symptoms
In general, you should see your doctor if you experience any of the following during a headache:
- Weakness, dizziness or balance problems
- Speech problems or mental confusion
- Vision problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- New headaches after a head injury
- Headaches triggered by coughing, bending or vigorous physical activity
- New onset of headaches after the age of 55
Sometimes the headache itself is so painful that medical care is required. One of the most painful types of headaches is a migraine that has symptoms including intense pain on one side of your head, nausea, vomiting and light or sound sensitivity. If you experience migraines for 15 or more days a month, you are a chronic migraine sufferer and should seek treatment from a pain specialist. You also should see a physician if you are getting migraine headaches for the first time after the age of forty.
Headache from Stroke
There are many serious health conditions that produce regular or persistent headaches. Among the most dangerous are strokes which may involve a blood vessel blockage or bleeding into the cranial cavity. If you experience weakness or loss of sensation on one side of your body, vision problems, difficulty speaking or confusion along with your headache, seek medical attention immediately.
Headache from a Brain Tumor
Although quite rare, brain tumors may present as new headaches that are more intense or different symptomatically. You should discuss any changes in symptoms with your physician who can perform a brain scan to identify a cancerous growth.
Headache from Meningitis
Some infections like meningitis may also produce headaches along with fever, disorientation and seizures. Meningitis is a potentially fatal infection and should be treated by a physician as soon as possible.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
M.D. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Robert Moghim, M.D. and do not necessarily represent and are not intended to represent the views of the company or its employees. The information contained in this article does not constitute medical advice, nor does reading or accessing this information create a patient-provider relationship. Comments that you post will be shared with all visitors to this page. The comment feature is not governed by HIPAA and you should not post any of your private health information.