Having a Headache? 7 Warning Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

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Having a Headache? 7 Warning Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore

Headaches are one of the most prevalent health complaints experienced by people. There would hardly be someone who hasn’t experienced a headache in their lifetime. For most, the primary symptom is a feeling of discomfort or pain somewhere in the head or facial region. There exist several types of headaches, with tension headaches being the most common type.

There can be a long list of headache reasons. From a tiring day to standing under the sun, from migraine to stress, the causes of headaches can be varied. However, for the vast majority, headaches alone do not indicate a serious medical issue. However, it is important to be aware that some less common headache types can potentially signal an underlying health problem requiring prompt evaluation by a physician.

What is a Headache?

A headache is a sensation of discomfort in the head or facial region that often manifests as feelings of pressure, throbbing, persistence, sharpness, or dullness. They can vary significantly in their character of pain, intensity level, localized area, and regularity of occurrence.

Experiencing headaches is exceedingly prevalent, with most individuals encountering them repeatedly over the course of their lifetime. In fact, headache represents one of the most frequent complaints reported regarding pain. Their pervasiveness makes headaches a principal cause of missed days at the workplace, as well as urgency for seeking medical guidance.

Types of Headaches

There are more than 150 types of headaches documented so far. Broadly, headaches fall under two principal umbrellas - primary and secondary.

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches originate from dysfunctional or heightened activity in the pain-sensitive structures of the head itself. They are not symptomatic of an underlying medical condition. Genetic factors may contribute to an individual's susceptibility to developing certain primary headaches.

Some common primary headache types include:

  • Tension-type headaches: The most prevalent primary headache.
  • Migraines: Painful headaches often accompanied by other symptoms.
  • Cluster headaches: Severely painful but brief recurring attacks.
  • New daily persistent headaches: A recently defined chronic daily headache pattern.

Causes of Primary Headache 

Certain primary headache reasons can be lifestyle influences or situational prompts, such as:

  • Alcohol, particularly red wine
  • Specific foods containing nitrates or processed meats
  • Tobacco usage
  • Irregular sleep patterns or lack of rest
  • Poor posture maintained over long periods
  • Vigorous physical exertion or exercise
  • Nutritional deficiencies from skipped meals
  • Forceful actions like coughing, sneezing, or laughing

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches stem from an identifiable underlying medical condition. They serve as a symptom of some pathological process.

Some secondary headache types presenting low risk include:

  • Dehydration-related headaches
  • Sinus-associated headaches
  • Medication overuse headaches.

However, other secondary headache patterns could indicate serious issues:

  • Spinal headaches from spinal fluid leakage, requiring treatment
  • Thunderclap headaches denote potentially life-threatening vascular or intracranial conditions necessitating immediate evaluation.

Symptoms of Headaches You Shouldn’t Ignore

While headaches are common, they aren’t entirely something not to worry about. If you experience any of these symptoms, make sure to reach out to a doctor as soon as possible.

1. Chronic Headaches

Headaches that arise 15 days or more per month for over 3 consecutive months are classified as chronic. Such regular occurrences are likely to interfere with one's usual routines and responsibilities.

While some chronic headaches result from tensions we all face periodically, on-going issues deserve medical evaluation. Seeing a doctor is especially wise for headaches intermediating with life more than twice weekly. The brain and surrounding structures require careful consideration, as serious underlying issues occasionally underlie chronic symptoms.

2. Persistent Headaches

Living with a prolonged severe headache can greatly diminish one's quality of life. Understandably, persistent pain may force missed commitments or cause dependence on medications simply to function.

While headaches alone usually do not portend grave concerns, lasting over a week merits attentive care. A sustained duration signals the potential for underlying headache disorders requiring the attention of a doctor.

3. Intense Pain

A severe headache, unlike any before, warrants immediate medical attention. Colloquially termed "thunderclap headaches", these intense onset manifestations sometimes signal underlying severe issues.

While not always serious, thunderclap headaches can indicate life-threatening conditions such as brain aneurysms or haemorrhaging. Associated vision changes, loss of consciousness, or seizures heighten the risk level. If left untreated, such pathology may induce comas or prove fatal.

4. Headache after a Blow to the Head

Even seemingly slight blows to the head can sometimes result in serious injuries, thus, visiting a doctor is a must if you receive a blow in the head. Impact on the head can induce headaches that can mask dangerous concussions or brain trauma invisible externally.

5. Headache followed by Fever and Stiff Neck

When a severe headache occurs alongside fever and neck rigidity, the possibility of meningitis arises. This frightful inflammation of the brain/spinal coverings demands prompt medical attention.

Early signs of meningitis can include muscle pain, vomiting, drowsiness, and a telltale rash. While some self-limiting types resolve without intervention, bacterial varieties progress with dangerous swiftness and risk permanent disability or demise without swift action.

6. Headache along with Nausea and Vomiting

Headaches, especially migraines, commonly involve nausea or vomiting as secondary symptoms, though these manifestations typically pass with treatment and time. Such unpleasant yet self-limiting effects merit some forbearance as the body works to alleviate the primary source of discomfort.

However, when emesis persists over an extended duration, like multiple days, medical attention becomes prudent. Prolonged vomiting risks dehydration, which, if unchecked, can potentially spawn serious complications affecting overall health and wellness.

7. Headache Causing a Change in Mental Functioning

If you are experiencing an intense headache accompanied by confusion, weakness, or loss of coordination, it is imperative to seek emergency medical assistance right away. These could be alarming signs of a stroke.

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of a stroke enables recognition if one occurs. Difficulty in walking or speaking, or slurred speech requires immediate medical attention. Don’t ignore as an untreated stroke can lead to permanent brain damage.

>> Also Read: Dos and Don'ts of Viral Fever: Prevention, Symptoms & Treatment

Headache Treatment

Mild tension headaches that arise infrequently may be eased with over-the-counter headache medicine options. However, it is important to note what causes headaches everyday if you rely too heavily on these remedies over the long run.

For recurrent or debilitating headaches, your healthcare provider may suggest  medications tailored for headache treatment. Targeted drugs like triptans have been shown to interrupt migraine attacks when taken at the initial warning signs.

Certain medications prescribed for conditions such as high blood pressure, seizures or depression have also demonstrated success in reducing headache frequency for some patients.

Before We Take Off

In most cases, having a headache is common. It can come and go on its own, in some time. However, if you are experiencing headaches on a regular basis or if they are too severe, consulting your doctor is highly recommended. As regular occurrence can lead to severe health condition or you may end up spending a fortune in hospitalisation. However, if you are covered by a health insurance plan, your medical expenses will be taken care of. In today’s world, being without coverage can turn out to be a costly mistake.

The right insurance can significantly assist with all kinds of treatment by providing coverage for doctor visits, diagnostic tests like MRIs or CT scans, and prescription medications. This makes it more affordable to access the care and treatment you need for headaches without worrying about high medical costs. With Care Health Insurance, you can get access to an array of comprehensive health insurance plans that can help you remain stress-free during a medical emergency.

Disclaimers: The above information is for reference purposes only: Policy Assurance and Claims at the underwriter's discretion.

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