man wondering if he may have a dangerous headache


Seven signs of a dangerous headache

  • Headaches affect almost half of us in the course of a year.
  • The good news is that 90 percent of headaches are "benign." That means they aren't harmful or dangerous to you.
  • The bad news is that 10 percent of headaches are a sign of a serious condition which requires an emergency evaluation.

How can you tell the difference between an ordinary headache and one that's dangerous?

It's not easy. Almost all types of headaches activate the same type of pain receptors. That can make it difficult you to know whether your headache pain is a sign of a serious condition or not. The most serious causes of headache pain include:

  • hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke
  • aneurysm
  • meningitis
  • brain tumor 

If you develop a headache with no history of having had a similar headache, here are seven signs that it could be dangerous and require an emergency evaluation:

  1. It comes on suddenly (less than five minutes to maximum pain).
  2. It is severe headache (the worst headache of your life).
  3. You take a blood thinner.
  4. You have problems with your immune system (you have diabetes or HIV, or you are being treated with steroids or chemotherapy).
  5. You have neurological symptoms such as arm or leg numbness or weakness, slurred speech or seizures.
  6. You have pain in the back of the head or pain that travels down your neck.
  7. You are older than 50.

Need emergency care? Find an emergency room near you and check wait times.

We often can rule out serious conditions without extensive tests, but depending on your symptoms and medical history a CT scan or spinal tap may be necessary.

If you have any cause for concern about a headache, it is best to be evaluated.


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