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When to Worry About a Headache: 4 Key Signs

When to Worry About a Headache: 4 Key Signs

Posted On: September 21, 2020

When to Worry About a Headache

Are you currently suffering from headaches? You may treat headaches as a common occurrence and just grab painkillers over the counter. And you’re not alone since up to 1 in 20 adults have a headache every day. However common they may be, there are key signs indicating when you should be worried about your headache.

1. Throbbing Head

Serious headache symptoms can include a throbbing head which can actually mean a migraine instead of just a regular headache. Pay attention if you notice a pounding feeling and sensitivity to light.

Be mindful of any sharp stabbing pain around your eye. If you experience migraines, speak to your doctor.

2. Recurring Headaches

Chronic headaches, when a headache continually comes back for months, can be a cause for concern. Not only can they disrupt your daily life, but they can be unmanageable without medical help.

If you notice you’re having 2 or more headaches a week contact a neurological specialist. There could be underlying problems that can cause these headaches.

They can be serious problems with the brain or just a tension headache. You’ll also be able to figure out any headache triggers and make changes to reduce your headaches.

3. Headache That Wakes You Up

Headache signs and symptoms of concern can be when a headache hurts so bad it wakes you up at night. Or if you notice that it’s only the worst at night.

These symptoms can be a sign of a tumor or mass. You’ll need an MRI or CT scan of your blood vessels or brain to make sure all is ok.

4. Intense Pain

If you experience a headache that you’d say is so intense you can’t handle the pain, seek medical help immediately. When you experience an intense headache that comes on suddenly, you could have a life-threatening condition.

You could be experiencing bleeding in your brain or an aneurysm. Aneurysms can lead to deaths or comas. If you experience loss of consciousness, seizures, or blurred vision along with your intense headache, don’t delay.

When Should You Worry About Headaches?

Some headaches can go away with self-care such as taking a pain-reliever or prescribed medicine from your doctor.

Potential headache warning signs can include:

  • A headache from a blow to your head
  • Decreased memory or alertness
  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech

For some headaches, you’ll want to seek immediate medical attention and not delay.

Tension Headache vs. Migraines

Migraines and tension headaches are considered the main form of headaches. These headaches are the primary problem and aren’t caused by other problems such as dehydration.

Migraines normally stay on one side of the head, usually near the temple or in the front. They can, unfortunately, last for days. The pain is caused by brain blood vessels, so migraines can cause a pounding feeling.

Sensitivity to light is common with migraines, along with certain triggers from smells and food.

Tension headaches can feel like a tightness or pressure. You don’t have to worry about a smell intolerance with tension headaches. The feeling is often found on both sides of the head.

They can be caused by musculoskeletal pain spreading into the head from the jaw and neck.

Cluster Headaches

These types of headaches come in clusters since they occur at different times. The headache happens fast but normally doesn’t last longer than an hour. They can last up to 3 hours.

The pain is often intense and normally on one side of the head. Your eye on the side that hurts can become watery and red, along with a runny nose and your eyelid can be drooping.

You can also experience nausea and sensitivity to light. Over-the-counter drugs normally don’t offer much help in regards to cluster headaches. Certain medications can help decrease how long an attack lasts.

Speak to your neurological specialist about taking oxygen therapy for pain relief.

Other Types of Headaches

Sometimes migraines are misdiagnosed as sinus headaches. If you experience seasonal allergies you’re more likely to develop sinus headaches.

Treatment options include thinning out the mucus that causes sinus pressure. You can use decongestants, nasal steroid sprays, and antihistamines.

If you’re experiencing a sinus headache, it could be a sinus infection. Your doctor might prescribe you an antibiotic for your sinus infection.

Women can experience what’s known as hormone headaches. These are caused by varying estrogen levels. Your estrogen levels can change if you’re pregnant, menstruating, or taking birth control pills.

How Are Serious Headaches Treated?

If you have headache symptoms to worry about, your doctor may order different tests and have you see a neurologist. A neurologist is a nervous system and brain specialist.

Some common tests are:

  • EEG
  • MRI
  • CT scan
  • Blood test
  • Ear exam
  • Medical history
  • Physical exam
  • Spinal fluid test

If you’re suffering from heatstroke or dehydration, your doctor might need to give you treatment through an IV.


If you experience migraines, your doctor might prescribe pain medications or medications that help prevent them from occurring.

If you have high blood pressure, make sure you do everything the doctor tells you to and take your medications. Headaches can be caused by high blood pressure.

When to Worry About a Headache?

After reading this guide you should have a better understanding of when to worry about a headache, and obtaining the treatment you need.

Are you tired of your headaches affecting daily life? You shouldn’t have to suffer anymore. Contact us today so you can finally get the care you need and deserve.

Dr Jochism

Dr. Sean Jochims, Neurologist

Dr. Sean Jochims graduated medical school with the prestigious Rick Wartgow Award for dedication to medicine. He also received Excellence in Teaching Awards as chief resident in neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

  • Medical School: Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Internship/Internal Medicine: Northwestern University
  • Clinical Neurophysiology Fellowship: Rush Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center, Chicago
  • Participant at Atlanta School of Sleep Medicine
Board Certifications
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