According to Mark Morocco, a clinical professor and ER doctor at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, you need to see your primary care physician if your headache status changes. That means if you have never had headaches, but now you seem to have them all the time, your doctor should be made aware of the change. Or, if the intensity of your regular migraines has suddenly increased, that’s also something worthy of your doctor’s attention.
Here are some warning signs that your headaches is a true medical emergency:
1. ‘Thunderclap’ Headache
If a severe headache comes on suddenly – "Like someone flipping a light switch or hitting you with a hammer". It could be a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain caused by a leaking aneurysm.
To be absolutely clear, this isn’t a sharp pain that recedes in seconds or a few minutes. It won’t go away quickly. Go to ER immediately.
2. Headache Changes Its Tune
If you experience migraines or tension headaches, an especially severe headache isn’t necessarily something you need to worry about. If your headache feels both severe and different from what you usually experience. If this is the case, you should get yourself to the ER as this could be an aneurysm or some other urgent medical situation.
3. Headache Isn’t Your Only Issue
A bad headache accompanied by a fever is concerning. It could be meningitis, encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. Especially if your bad headache and fever are accompanied by an altered mental state – like forgetting your close one’s names – you should head to the ER.
4. The Ache Is Behind or Around Your Eye
If you have a headache with eye pain, and especially if you have a change in your vision, that’s an emergency. The big concern here is acute glaucoma, or a buildup of pressure in your eye that cuts off its blood flow and can lead to blindness.
5. Bumping Your Head when on Blood Thinners
If you knock your head and are on blood thinners, a headache could indicate a subdural hematoma, or a kind of slow bleed inside your brain that – thanks to those thinners – doesn’t clot. This condition can be deadly, so you should get to an ER as soon as possible.
6. The Pain Is Concentrated in Temple
In the majority of cases, the location of your headache isn’t an indication of anything scary. However, if you’re older than 50 and your headache feels focused in one or both of your temples, that could be indicative of temporal arteritis – a condition in which the arteries in your temples become inflamed. If you have blurry vision or a fever as well, it’s best to see a doctor immediately.
7. Headache Is Contagious
If people around you – your family or coworkers for example – are complaining about headaches at the same time you’re experiencing an unusual ache, that could be a sign of CO2 poisoning. If you step outside and your headache lightens, warn everyone else, open windows and doors, and have the place inspected for a CO2 leak.