Everyone gets headaches from time to time, they are associated with a variety of medical conditions or occur as the sole symptom. It’s important to understand that headaches are almost always a sign your body is giving you that something else is going wrong inside.
Typically there isn’t a question of when to worry about a headache since most headaches go away in a few hours or at most after a day. Additionally, not all headaches are severe enough to push people to meet a doctor about it. However, there are several types of headaches to worry about since they may indicate serious, life-threatening issues.
What Are Headaches?
Headaches are aches and pains that occur in the head area, either all over or just in certain sections of the head. Minor headaches can be a dull, uniform pressure across the skull or a throbbing, painful sensation along the top part of your head. Many variations of the same are possible.
The root cause of headaches is not known. The fact is that while your brain receives pain signals from all over your body, the brain itself has no nerves to feel pain. The same is true for your skull. But it is thought that the blood vessels in the head and neck area may be able to send signals of pain. Additionally, your teeth, face and jaw muscles and other parts of the head all have nerves that can also signal pain.
There are a few very common things associated with headaches. The exact mechanism of how or why they cause headaches requires more study. If you have a headache right now, these are the most probable causes/triggers:
- Mental or physical stress
- Sleep deprivation (occasional or chronic)
- Physical exhaustion or tiredness
- Withdrawal from caffeine or other substances
- Changes in the weather (especially air pressure)
- Alcohol consumption or other food and beverages (such as processed fast foods)
- Suddenly ceasing certain medications
Understand that these factors are simply linked to headaches but may not be the direct cause of it. Usually, these are not the types of headaches to worry about since they will resolve when you treat the underlying issues. When to worry about a headache is something we’ll explore next.
When To Worry About A Headache?
Keep in mind that the majority of headaches are minor and you do not need to stress yourself. But if you notice the following issues, the best course of action is to see your doctor about it:
- A sudden, severe headache that comes on with no noticeable trigger. Usually occurs within a few seconds or minutes.
- A headache that changes depending on your position, for example, if it gets more intense when you bend forward.
- If head pain occurs while coughing or sneezing.
- If a headache persists for several days and/or does not reduce in intensity for the same period.
- A strong headache that occurs in a person who does not have a history of migraines.
- A headache or head pain that affects one specific spot or area of the head.
- If the person has cognitive or behavioural changes along with the headache.
- Other changes like numbness, tingling, loss of sensation, loss of limb control, difficulty in speaking or similar issues accompanying the headache.
Additionally, keep in mind that some headaches happen under certain circumstances and are usually a symptom of something serious. In these cases ‘when to worry about a headache?’, the answer includes the following list as well:
- Severe headaches accompanied by red eyes
- Headaches that wake you up from sleep
- Headaches that happen after you hit your head or have a fall.
- Severe headaches in cancer patients
- Drooping of the face accompanying a headache
- Headaches that are severe enough to alter or interfere with your vision.
Types of Headaches To Worry About – Potential Underlying Causes
As mentioned before, these issues are rare and the causes listed below are not always the reason for a very strong headache. These are just a few potential causes of these types of headaches to worry about.
- Brain Tumours – Brain tumours can cause severe, prolonged headaches by pressing against the brain itself or expanding the brain size within the skull. Dizziness, changes in vision, feeling nauseous and vomiting are a few other symptoms of a brain tumour.
- Carbon Monoxide – Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas that is produced when burning takes place. Inhaling carbon monoxide leads to oxygen deprivation which can cause suffocation, dizziness, weakness, fainting and chest pain along with a headache.
- Concussion – Following a severe head injury such as a strike to the head during an accident or a sports injury, the brain moves within the skull. This may lead to several symptoms like loss of body control, memory issues and confusion. A headache is also one of the most common signs of a concussion.
When a person experiences very high blood pressure, the associated headache is another one of the types of headaches to worry about. Meningitis (swelling of brain tissue due to infection) and a stroke are two other conditions that can trigger a severe headache as one of the symptoms.
Not all headaches are created equal, hopefully, this guide can give you an indication of when to worry about a headache. The types of headaches to worry about are mostly partnered with the signs we’ve covered today. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned here or other symptoms, meet with a doctor or seek emergency medical attention at the earliest.
Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.