Headaches can be a serious health issue. Few health issues are as universal as headaches. It’s estimated that at least half of all adults have had a headache within the last year, and more than 12 million Americans visit their doctor complaining about headaches annually. Part of the reason headaches affect so many, is that multiple things can cause them. Stress, eye strain, tense muscles, illnesses, and environmental factors all contribute to various levels of head pain.

While headaches are fairly universal, that doesn’t mean they’re always harmless. In fact, sometimes the cause of a severe headache may require immediate emergency medical attention. Seeing as June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to review three key facts that will determine just how severe your next headache is - and help you figure out what to do about it:

1) There are different kinds of headaches, which vary in severity. According to the National Headache Foundation, there are two kinds of headaches: primary and secondary. All headaches fall into one of these categories depending on their causes and symptoms. For example, migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches are all examples of primary headaches. Secondary headaches, on the other hand, occur after the body experiences a physical ailment. Infections, fever, head injury, hypoglycemia, tumors, dental conditions or increased pressure in the skull and/or sinuses are all examples of secondary headaches. And generally speaking, while primary headaches can be painful to the point of disabling, secondary headaches are more likely to signal danger to your overall health.

2) Out of the ordinary headaches need to be reported to your doctor. With so many different potential causes for a headache, it’s important to know your body and report any out-of-the-ordinary headaches to a doctor. For example, if there’s a change in the amount of pain you experience or the type of headache you develop, we want to know! This can be the first warning sign of a serious underlying health issue. We also recommend visiting the doctor if you:

  • Experience frequent weekly headaches (i.e. three or more a week)
  • Find yourself dealing with persistent headaches that don’t fade away
  • Take pain medications every day or every other day to manage chronic headaches
  • Develop headache after simple daily activities or movements, as well as after strenuous exercise

3) You don't always want to wait for a doctor’s appointment when it comes to headaches. Headaches may seem like a run-of-the-mill, low key health issue, but there situations in which you should seek emergency care for your headache. If you experience any of following, you’ll want to call 911 or visit your local ER immediately:

  • A headache that is more severe than what your normally experience
  • A headache that affects a different spot in your head than normal
  • A headache that occurs at the same time as neurological symptoms (i.e. weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance or falling, numbness or tingling, paralysis, speech difficulties, mental confusion, and vision changes)
  • A headache accompanied by high fever, shortness of breath, stiff neck, or rash
  • A headache that prevents you from sleeping, that, keeps you in the house due to nausea or vomiting, or which otherwise affects your ability to function at a basic level

Headaches are commonplace, but they aren’t always normal. Keeping these headache facts in mind can help you know what to do and who to go to, to ensure that an unordinary headache isn’t ignored.

Questions? Concerns? Contact your Genesis Medical location and care team any time you would like to discuss medical issues or needs!

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