When to Worry About a Headache: Dangerous Headaches

Do you know when to worry about a headache?

Headaches are not usually a cause for concern. The average headache comes with a manageable level of pain and is typically triggered by something like work stress, poor posture, flashing lights, strong smells, and loud sounds. Unfortunately, headaches can also be a symptom of a more serious medical condition like a tumor, stroke, aneurysm, or meningitis.

So, how can you distinguish dangerous headaches from harmless ones? If you don’t know when to worry about a headache, we encourage you to read through our detailed guide below. This information should help you decide whether or not to seek medical assistance for your head pain. 

When Is a Headache Dangerous?

To determine whether or not a headache is dangerous, it’s essential to understand the different types of headaches. Headache pain can be dull, sharp, throbbing, brief, or long-lasting. The pain can occur anywhere in the face or head, depending on the type of headache you’re experiencing. If you’re not familiar, the most common types of headaches include:

  • Cluster
  • Tension
  • Sinus
  • Neck
  • Migraine
  • TMJ

You can distinguish these headaches by where they tend to cause pain. Cluster headaches, for example, cause pain around the eyes, whereas tension headaches usually occur in the forehead area. Cluster headaches and tension headaches are good examples of head pain that doesn’t usually require urgent care. 

Any headache can technically be dangerous, provided it’s a symptom of a serious medical condition like a tumor, stroke, or aneurysm. The best example of this would be what’s called a thunderclap headache. This headache strikes seemingly out of nowhere and causes severe pain. They’re typically a sign of bleeding in and around the brain, so sufferers should seek medical attention immediately.

when to worry about a headache

 

 

Warning Signs of Dangerous Headaches: When to Worry About a Headache

Head pain can be dangerous without striking suddenly and severely like a thunderclap headache. Sometimes a dangerous headache will create a dull and tolerable ache rather than an electric-shock type of pain. That’s why pain severity should be just one of many metrics used to determine whether or not your headache requires medical attention. 

 

 

If you identify with any of the points listed below, you should seek medical help as soon as possible. These are a few of the key warning signs of dangerous headaches. 

  • Your headache has persisted for longer than 72 hours without a period of at least 4 hours pain-free.
  • Over-the-counter pain medications and at-home remedies are continuously ineffective.
  • The pain is the worst you’ve ever experienced from a headache. 
  • Your headache returns to the same spot over and over again.
  • You also have symptoms like vision loss, uncontrollable vomiting, fever, and slurred speech.

Headaches can be harmless, but you should take them very seriously if you begin to experience any of the issues described above. Getting yourself help from a medical professional in a timely manner could save your life. 

If you have any other questions about how headaches can be dangerous, how to manage head pain, or anything else, we encourage you to read through our informative FAQ below. 

FAQs Regarding When to Worry About a Headache

How long is too long for a headache?

Headaches usually go away within 4 hours, but it’s not uncommon for the head pain to persist for longer. If your headache persists for longer than 72 hours, however, you should seek immediate medical attention. This is one of a few signs that your head pain may be the result of a serious medical issue. 

Which type of headache is considered a medical emergency?

Your headache may be a medical emergency if it lasts longer than 72 hours, is the worst headache you’ve ever experienced, or comes with symptoms like uncontrollable vomiting or vision loss. Thunderclap headaches should also be treated as medical emergencies, along with headaches that are accompanied by a fever, slurred speech, or numbness. 

Is it OK to go to sleep with a headache?

Sleeping with a headache is not dangerous in itself. That said, you should take steps to ease your head pain before going to bed, as an untreated headache may worsen overnight. You also shouldn’t use sleep as a replacement for seeking medical attention if your symptoms are severe and resistant to at-home treatment.

It’s also worth noting that not getting enough sleep and getting too much sleep can trigger migraines. If you’re someone that suffers from regular headaches or migraines, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule of 7 or 8 hours a night might help you keep them at bay. 

What do I do if my headache won’t go away?

If your headache persists for longer than 72 hours, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. The same is true for headaches that come and go but continuously occur in the same spot. 

What does it mean if your headache won’t go away?

Headaches that don’t go away may indicate a more serious medical condition, such as a tumor, aneurysm, meningitis, and more. You may also suffer from chronic migraines, which have a variety of causes. If there isn’t an underlying condition to treat, you may need to see a pain specialist that can assist with headache pain management. 

When should I go to the hospital for a headache?

You should seek medical attention immediately if you experience extreme pain, pain of any severity that persists for longer than 72 hours, or side effects like fever, dizziness, vomiting, and slurred speech. 

What happens to the brain when you have a headache?

When you have a headache, the muscles or blood vessels around your head and neck may tighten or swell. These changes can put pressure on or stimulate the surrounding nerves, which then send pain signals to the brain. 

There’s also a theory concerning migraines that involves brain cells triggering chemicals like serotonin, which can narrow your blood cells. Your blood vessels may also contract and cause throbbing pain when your estrogen levels rise and fall. As you can see, there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding headaches and how they occur. 

see a doctor to know when to worry about a headache

How to Get Rid of Headaches Fast

Thankfully, not all headaches require a trip to the emergency room. You can treat most minor headaches from the comfort of your own home. Some of the most common remedies for easing head pain symptoms include:

  • Applying a cold pack or heating pad
  • Drinking plenty of water 
  • Easing any pressure on your scalp or head
  • Relaxing and destressing
  • Dimming the lights in your home
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medication

 

If these remedies aren’t effective or you’d like a more permanent solution for chronic headaches, the pain specialists at Carolinas Pain Center can help you. We can provide insight on when to worry about a headache and offer a wide range of treatments to eliminate your head pain or to help you manage it better. This includes trigger point injections, massage therapy, acupuncture, botox, biofeedback, prolotherapy, and more. 

We may also prescribe preventative or abortive medications, such as anti-depressants, anti-seizures, triptans, and anti-inflammatories. The treatment and medication you receive will vary based on the cause and severity of your headaches, which we take into account when preparing a personal treatment plan for you.

Don’t Tolerate Painful Headaches

Why suffer through chronic headaches when you could find relief at the Carolinas Pain Center? Our dedicated team of pain specialists has the skill and equipment necessary to assess your condition and offer a diverse selection of treatments. We take an individualized and multidisciplinary approach to our care by developing a personalized treatment plan just for you. Our methods have relieved the pain and improved the quality of life of countless patients throughout North Carolina. 

If you experience regular headaches and would like us to create a treatment plan for you, we encourage you to get in touch with our team. To contact us, please call 704-500-2332 or make an appointment using our online form.