There's no one-size-fits-all headache
Stokkete/shutterstockAccording to Brian Grosberg, MD, director of the Hartford HealthCare Headache Center, there are over 300 different types and causes of headaches. "Taking a thorough headache history helps determine if there are 'red flags' or worrisome features that may be indicative that the headache is attributable to some underlying condition or cause," he says. Find out the foods that are the most likely to trigger a headache.
Your head is throbbing
Nikodash/ShutterstockIt's estimated that around six percent of men and 18 percent of women suffer from migraines. If you happen to fall into that group, you know how painful and debilitating they can be. Though the first time you feel it coming on, you might worry something is terribly wrong, migraine sufferers become experts at the warning signs. Neurologist Isha Gupta, MD, explains, "Severe migraines can be described as intense throbbing or pounding sensations, with sensitivity to light or sound. Other types of severe headaches can be described as sharp stabbing pain in the face or around the eye. Some people have severe tension headache described as a band-like squeezing." Though it's important to talk to your doctor if you continuously experience migraine-like symptoms, they can be managed with medicine and therapy.
You have numbness or slurred speech
Branislav Nenin/ShutterstockDr. Gupta says that because of their singular symptom—a headache— aneurysms are often hard to diagnose and catch. However, there are a few indicators that the pain between your eyes or in the back of your head is more than just having one-too-many drinks, and could actually be quite dangerous and life-threatening. The biggest one? Dr. Gupta explains that aneurysms "are sometimes associated with difficulty speaking, slurred speech, difficulty thinking or understanding other people, difficulty moving your arms or legs, numbness or tingling in the body, vision changes, or face drooping." She says that if you notice any of those side effects, it's time to go to the emergency room, ASAP.
You can't concentrate
Photographee.eu/ShutterstockConcussion awareness is at an all-time high in schools and professional sports. You need to be every bit as cautious and concerned with your own noggin, says Dr. Gupta. Oftentimes, you won't know you have a concussion until you experience post-trauma—you're struggling to concentrate or have sudden memory loss. If this happens, you should seek medical attention and stay awake until you see a professional.
A headache is so bad it wakes you up
Monkey Business Images/ShutterstockThis isn't going to sound good, but one of the toughest cancers to diagnose is brain cancer, according to Dr. Gupta. Because there are many forms of brain cancer, few specific symptoms will tip you off to its presence. As with skin cancer, you're best off watching for abrupt changes for your best clue. She explains that if a headache is so severe that it wakes you up or is specifically really intense only in the mornings, it's worth bringing up with your doctor. "The only way to completely rule out causes of a more serious headache is to see a doctor who will order either a CT scan or MRI of your brain and possibly blood vessels, based on your symptoms," she explains.
If your neck is stiff or you have a fever
file404/ShutterstockWith only 20,000 cases in the U.S. each year, meningitis is thankfully rare. This bacterial infection causes a dangerous inflammation of the membranes covering your brain and spinal cord. If your headache is coupled with a high fever and your neck becomes sore, Tania Dempsey, MD, says to see a doctor immediately. While the majority of patients do recover from this illness, it needs to be treated promptly.
Your headache just won't quit
NotarYES/ShutterstockA stubborn headache might cause you to double-up on pain meds, chug water, and close your eyes, but if the symptoms persist Dr. Dempsey says book an appointment ASAP. Especially if you already struggle with head pain, you not being able to move past the dull sensation may be extra cause for worry. "Someone with a history of headaches who notices a change in the pattern and location of the headache and a lack of response to headache treatments that worked in the past should know that the headache is severe and needs prompt attention," she says.
It's the worst headache of your life
Leszek Glasner/shutterstockIf you normally suffer from headaches, then perhaps this is just a little worse. But Emad Estemalik, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine at The Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, says there are certain red flags to look out for including if this is the absolute worst headache of your life. If the answer is yes, head straight to the emergency room as it could be a sign of a potentially life-threatening condition including meningitis or an aneurysm.
You have visual changes
Tei Sinthip/shutterstock"A headache that is accompanied with visual changes, vision loss, weakness, numbness, or tingling should be checked out," says Dr. Esternalik. According to the American Migraine Foundation about one-third of migraine sufferers experience aura, but for those who don't, any changes in vision, spots, blurred vision, trouble focusing that accompanies a headache should be checked out by a doctor. Try these home remedies for headaches.
You are older than 50
Ruslan Guzovshu/shutterstock"If the person is over the age of 50 and they are experiencing a new type of headache or a change in a preexisting type of headache that they experienced, it's time to see a doctor" says Dr. Grosberg.