A Headache: A Warning About Something Serious?

· November 10, 2016
When headaches become frequent and stop us from performing our daily activities, we should consult a doctor so that he orders specific tests to rule out serious problems.

A headache is something normal in our lives. No doubt it’s a well-known and troubling enemy. Luckily, for the most part, it goes away on its own without complications.

However, there are people that, as opposed to those feeling relief after taking a painkiller or relaxing with a good rest, find this discomfort to be recurring or debilitating. This is a common reality.

So, when should you start to worry about headaches? Could a headache be the symptom of something more dangerous? It’s something we need to think about.

Since knowledge is always our best weapon, below we’ll provide information we should all be familiar with.

A Headache: What Factors to Take into Account Regarding Its Seriousness

woman grabbing her head

In order to calm fears and worries, suffice to say, according to a Harvard Medical School‘s article, most occurrences of this pain aren’t a symptom of any grave illness.

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On the other hand, headaches can occasionally indicate something more serious. In this case, they could be a symptom of a debilitating condition, among other problems. For example, they could signal migraine, lupus, depression or arthritis. These are diseases where headaches are present.

We know that these conditions certainly diminish quality of life. These realities experienced in darkened rooms fall under the term “socially invisible illnesses.” They undoubtedly represent complex realities.

Besides, headaches can be a red flag of other serious medical problems. Therefore, it’s key to know how to tell at what point a headache isn’t normal and alerts us to something more.

Let’s look at some information that’s important to take into account.

1.  When We Should Worry About Headaches

Harvard University published, in the previously mentioned article, a series of characteristics that we should always look for when we (or someone close to us) suffer from a headache.

Take note:

  • We feel a sudden change in headaches. In other words, what used to be a sharp pain that went away with painkillers abruptly starts not disappearing with them. In this case, we should consult a doctor.
  • We should ask for help if we experience an excruciating headache.
  • If the pain increases upon coughing or upon moving, then it’s also abnormal.
  • We should also consider if the pain keeps us from carrying out our daily activities.
  • There are people who become aggressive or cranky when suffering from headaches. This is abnormal.
  • Be very careful if a headache occurs with fever and stiffness in the neck.
  • We should go to the emergency room if we also have difficulties seeing or speaking or experience one or more of the following:
    • weakness
    • dizziness
    • bloodshot eyes
  • Doctors also warn us that it’s also abnormal if the pain appears suddenly at night.
  • If we suffer a blow to the head and the resulting pain persists, then we should go to the emergency room immediately.

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2. Headache and Stroke

a headache

Without a doubt, a stroke is what you worry about the most when it comes to headache. This affects both the young and the not-so-young. The following six signs of alarm should never be too much to remember:

  • Suddenly, you feel a loss of strength on one side of your body. For example, your left arm, leg or half of the face abruptly becomes weak.
  • You experience a sudden, sharp headache.
  • Likewise, you feel an intense tingling in your face, arm or leg. This occurs on the same side of your body.
  • You lose vision in one eye.
  • You have difficulty speaking or making yourself understood.
  • sensation of vertigo, instability or losing your balance is common before suffering a stroke.

3. The “Demon of Headaches”

Talk to your doctor.

Tension headaches can be very awful. Migraines can be debilitating. However, according to what neurologists and patients who have suffered from them say, cluster headaches are the most painful.

What’s most common when experiencing this condition is that sufferers become scared. They think something very bad is happening. Nevertheless, it’s not grave.

It’s painful. It can paralyze your life for a few hours too. Yet, as we have said, it doesn’t imply any grave illness.

  • Cluster headaches affect 1% of the population.
  • They’re more common among men.
  • They’re intense and debilitating.
  • They can last from 15 to 90 minutes.
  • Besides, they can appear many times during the day.
  • This condition is related to small problems with the hypothalamus and circadian rhythms. Sometimes, your lifestyle, stress, lack of sleep and work combined together lead to this problem.

To conclude, a headache is usually something nonthreatening. More often than not, it’s due to fatigue or tension. Even hormonal changes can cause it.

Nonetheless, once it affects your day-to-day routine or is accompanied by other symptoms such as those pointed out here, don’t hesitate to consult your doctor. This health professional can give you a better diagnosis.

In these cases, a headache could be a symptom of something you need to know about as soon as possible.

  • Diamond, S. (2006). Migraine Headache. In Pain Management. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-7216-0334-6.50046-7
  • Hoffmann, J., & May, A. (2018). Diagnosis, pathophysiology, and management of cluster headache. The Lancet Neurology. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1474-4422(17)30405-2