When to call a doctor about your migraine or headache
Most of us have suffered from a headache at some point in our lives. Although they can be painful and disabling, the vast majority of headaches are not a significant cause of concern.
Depending on the type of headache you have, headache pain can be felt on one or both sides of your head. Moreover, headaches can also present as dull, tight or throbbing pain.
Headaches can be caused by many factors, from genetics to specific triggers, such as stress, seasonal allergies and dehydration. If your headaches tend to be mild and infrequent, you can bring it up with your doctor at your next annual check-up. However, specific headache symptoms should also be evaluated by your doctor.
So, what are the headache “red flags” everyone should learn to recognize? First, let’s take a look at some of the most common types of headaches and their symptoms:
This is one of the most common types of headache. Tension headaches can range from mild to severe in intensity, and often present as a dull, tight ache felt all over the head. Tension headaches can cause tenderness or sensitivity around the forehead, neck, scalp, and shoulder muscles.
Cluster headaches are severely painful headaches which can be felt as burning and piercing pain behind the eye or on one side of the face. This type of headache often occurs seasonally, and is relatively short, lasting 15 to 90 minutes.
Migraines are headaches which range in moderate to severe intensity and are often felt as throbbing or pulsating pain on one side of the head. Migraine headaches are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to lights and sound and dizziness. Some people also experience visual disturbances, such as flashes of light or blind spots.
This type of headache occurs when the sinus passages behind the nose, eyes, cheeks, and forehead become congested. A sinus headache may feel like pressure or pain in the head and in the sinus area, which gets worse when you lean forward. Often, sinus headaches occur during the allergy season or due to sinusitis.
What are some unusual migraine symptoms?
If you regularly experience headaches (once a week or more frequently) and find that over-the-counter medications are not effective in reducing headache pain, you should see your doctor for an evaluation. Medical observation can provide accurate diagnosis and rule out any underlying health issues that may be a cause for concern. Specifically, you should consult your health practitioner if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Headaches that have gotten more frequent
- Headaches that get worse
- Headaches that are triggered or made worse by physical activity
- If your headaches interfere with your daily activities, such as work or sleeping
- Headaches that are triggered by exercise
- If you need to take 2-3 doses of pain reliever a week or more to manage your headaches
- Changes in your headache symptoms
If you have any of these headache symptoms, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your headache patterns, medical history and general health. Based on the results of this assessment, your physician will decide if you need further tests.
What are headache symptoms that require urgent care?
Sometimes, a severe headache can be a symptom of a painful medical condition, such as a stroke or a brain aneurysm. If not treated in time, these conditions can be life-threatening.
Here are some signs that you may require immediate medical care:
- Slurred speech and dizziness
- Headache with fever, shortness of breath, stiff neck
- A sudden-onset, severe headache
- Headache that follows an injury or accident
- Headache that occurs with severe nausea and vomiting
- Headache pain that wakes you up at night
- Headache pain that occurs with the following neurological symptoms
Additional signs that you may need immediate medical care:
- Loss of balance
- Weakness or paralysis
- Mental confusion
- Sudden loss or changes in vision
- Inappropriate behaviours
- Personality changes
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, you must seek urgent medical care.
If you suffer from severe or recurrent headaches, it is essential to talk to your health practitioner to find effective treatment solutions.
At the HMC Centre, we understand how debilitating headache and migraine pain can significantly affect your quality of life and interfere with your daily activities such as work and leisure.
We use a comprehensive, non-narcotic approach to pain treatment designed according to your specific needs. Our team of specialists can identify the right treatment plan to help you stop the pain cycle and get back to things that matter the most to you. Contact us today to learn about our treatment options.