Headaches may be the most anxiety-inducing ailment. They are extremely common, rarely serious, yet quickly send people’s minds to a very dark place.
This is especially trying in 2021 because they’ve been included on the list of COVID-19 symptoms, while they can also indicate a blood clot, a rare side effect of some COVID-19 vaccines.
The overwhelming majority of headaches are harmless. They are known as “primary” headaches and are not the result of a more severe underlying condition.
But that doesn’t mean that all headaches are not serious or life-threatening. Sometimes they are. Here are some things to look for that could indicate you need to get to an emergency room:
Intense Pain Out of Nowhere: If a headache hits hard out of nowhere, it could indicate trouble. Called “thunderclap” headaches, these headaches will stop you in your tracks with intense and unbearable pain appearing out of nowhere in less than a minute.
It is possibly a result of a brain bleed or hemorrhage and you should get to a hospital.
It’s Accompanied by Nervous System Symptoms: If a headache appears in unison with weakness, confusion, trouble with speech (slurring), trouble with comprehension, walking trouble, or waking up, it could indicate a more severe problem.
These symptoms could indicate a stroke and getting to the emergency room is recommended.
If It Results from Certain Movements/Positions: It could be cause for concern if certain movements worsen the headache, like rolling over, bending over, sitting, or standing. Such pain may indicate a “postural” headache and be a sign of masses in the brain or spinal cord. Vomiting may also be a symptom.
These symptoms might also indicate a blood clot and emergency attention is recommended.
Stiff Neck: If you experience neck pain during a headache, or it becomes difficult to move, it may indicate a problem in the brain or spinal cord. These are often symptoms of meningitis, and it is worthwhile to get to the doctor as soon as possible.
Your Personal Health: Considering your overall health is also important in assessing a headache. If you have underlying conditions like heart disease or have suffered a recent fall or concussion, a minor headache may indicate something more serious.
Most of the time a headache is little more than an inconvenience. Sometimes, however, it can be a cause for concern requiring immediate medical attention.