How does someone know that the headache they have is not serious and potentially life threatening? As with most medical complaints, the best answer is determined with a thorough history and exam at your physician’s office. Here are some warning symptoms and signs that we look for in determining whether a headache is life threatening or not.
- Fever: A fever (100.4 degrees or higher orally), especially with severe neck pain and stiffness or being “out of it”, suggests an infectious cause such as meningitis or encephalitis.
- Sudden Headache: A sudden, “worst headache in my life” accompanied by neck rigidity, paralysis, dizziness, loss of vision and/or imbalance often is due to acute bleeding in the brain.
- Lasting Headache: Any headache that is constant and lasting more than a few days without even a temporary respite from pain, especially if accompanied by dizziness, imbalance, visual changes or other neurologic signs, could indicate a brain tumor or increased spinal fluid pressure.
- Trauma: Headache following a head injury with or without loss of consciousness could reflect swelling in the brain which may progress to brain herniation, leading to death. Incoherance, unequal pupils, difficulty arousing the patient, clear fluid from the ears and nose and/or blood behind the eardrums are common signs of serious head trauma.
Be sure to seek immediate medical care for any headache that seems out of the ordinary.
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