Should I Call the Doctor For My Headache?

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Most headaches aren't serious. Mostly, they’re a nagging aggravation that you can take care of by yourself with an over-the-counter pain medication. Or by passing up certain foods, activities, and other triggers you know can make your head pound

If you experience a headache that varies in intensity from previous headaches or lasts longer than you’re used to, call your doctor.

“Tension-type headaches, 70 to 80 percent of people can get those,” says internist and headache specialist Richard Kim, MD. “Episodic tension-type headaches don’t really bother people, so we don't really see that in clinic, because people just go and take Tylenol or ibuprofen by themselves, and the headache goes away.” Unless, tension headaches become chronic, he adds, causing sufferers to seek their doctor’s help.

Sometimes, though, headaches are more than an annoyance.

Headaches can sometimes be a symptom of a serious, underlying condition that needs medical attention. Headaches often accompany high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, for instance. They also are associated with stroke, cancer, and other diseases.

Having a headache that varies in intensity from previous headaches, or lasts longer, is cause to call your doctor determine if there’s an underlying cause that needs attention, Dr. Kim recommends.

When To Call Your Doctor About a HeadacheShould I Call the Doctor for My Headache? - In Content

“There are over 300 different types of causes of headache, and the majority are what we call secondary headaches, meaning that some other illness or disorder causes the headache,” Dr. Kim says. 

Examples of conditions that cause secondary headaches, he says, include:

  • A fever or infection
  • Brain tumors
  • Disorders of the blood vessels, arteries, and veins in the head
  • Metabolic and thyroid disorders
  • Anemia
  • Kidney disease

Dr. Kim talks about conditions that have headaches as a side effect. 

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

Reasons to see your doctor for headaches include:

  • You begin experiencing headaches that differ in intensity and duration from headaches you’re accustomed to
  • You have the worst headache you’ve ever had, a sign that you could have a brain aneurysm, a weak spot in the wall of an artery, and need emergency medical care  
  • Severe headache accompanied by fever, nausea, or vomiting unrelated to another illness
  • Headache with loss of sensation or weakness in any part of the body. This could be a sign of stroke.
  • Persistent headache if you’ve previously been headache-free, particularly if you’re over age 50
  • New headaches if you have a history of cancer or HIV/AIDS
  • Two or more headaches in a week or having to take more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter headache medicine
  • High fever and stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, convulsions, or shortness of breath with headache
  • Persistent headache that worsens
  • Lingering headache after a recent head injury
  • Headaches that come on quickly
  • Headaches that make routine activities difficult
  • Migraine headache symptoms change
  • Headache accompanied by slurred speech, changes in vision, numbness, or weakness in arms or legs or confusion
  • Headache that lasts longer than three days
  • Frequent headaches, especially in the morning
  • Recurring headache in children

Dr. Kim explains when you should see a physician or specialist for headaches.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.