Headaches – when to worry

Headaches can be the result of a medical disorder or they can be caused by stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, high blood pressure or emotional distress. It’s no wonder, then, that most adults experience headaches quite frequently. And we’ve all learned to deal with them, either by using over the counter medications, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, or by reaching out to more natural ways of relieving the pain. For instance, you might find that a warm relaxing bath can simply take it away.

So, most of the times, even if they can affect our quality of live, headaches should not worry us, as they do not put our health at risk and they usually go away relatively fast. However, there are situations in which a headache can be the symptom of a far more dangerous underlying condition. Here are the alarm signals that should worry you and the type of headaches that could be dangerous and that might require urgent medical care:

Headache that gets worse in the morning

Headaches that worsen in the morning and are associated with vomiting may be very dangerous because they are often the first and only symptom of a brain tumor. Does the headache get better during the day? Does it get worse when you move or cough? If you answered yes to either of the two questions or to both, you need to see a doctor immediately. Don’t panic, as it can be just a migraine, but do all it takes to make sure you’re well.

Headache that is intolerable

A ruptured cerebral aneurysm can cause brain hemorrhage and an unbearable pain. It is usually associated with upper neck pain, stiffness in the neck, light sensitivity, confusion and vomiting.

Explosive or violent headache

If you have headaches on a regular basis, you already know how long they last and how intense they usually are. You will, therefore, easily recognize a headache that appears almost instantaneously, is very violent and lasts for just a few seconds. If this happens, you should immediately call for help as this kind of pain can be determined by a brain hemorrhage caused by a cerebral aneurism or a stroke.

Sudden onset headache

Any pain that appears suddenly should constitute an alarm signal. When this type of headache is associated with numbness or weakness on a particular area of the face, in your hands or feet, it may be the symptom of a stroke. Other symptoms include loss of balance, blurred vision, and difficulty walking and speaking.

Headache associated with other symptoms

Your headache is associated with fever, chills, weight loss? It’s important that you ask these questions as the answer can potentially save your life. These symptoms, associated with violent headaches, may be a sign of meningitis, a life-threatening condition.

Headaches may also be a symptom of a heart attack, especially in women, and especially if they are associated with other symptoms such as sudden loss of sight and numbness in the hands or face.

Headaches after an accident

If you were recently involved in an accident and you hit your head, any pain must be an alarm signal. It can be a sign that you have a cerebral concussion which requires supervision and appropriate medical treatment.

If you suffer from cancer, HIV, heart disease, diabetes, or if you are receiving an immunosuppressive treatment and you experience headaches, you need to talk to your doctor. The headaches may be a sign of medical complications or a dangerous side-effect of your medical treatment.

You should also talk to your doctor if your headaches:

  • Appear later in life, over the age of 50;
  • Are associated with difficulty breathing;
  • Appear after intercourse;
  • Become worse over time;
  • Affect your memory;
  • Affect your mobility;
  • Affect your ability to function in society;
  • Their frequency, location and intensity changes constantly.

Knowing and understanding the symptoms that can be a sign of alarm and how to distinguish between “common” headaches and potentially dangerous headaches is not equivalent to a self-diagnosis, but it only prompts you to take urgent measures that can save your life. So start listening do your body!

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