Is this a headache to be concerned about? Should I see a doctor?

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Most people experience a headache at some point in their lifetimes.  It might be related to lack of sleep, a temporary illness like the flu or sinus congestion from a cold, an unusually stressful situation, etc.  However, for some people headaches can be more intense, persistent, chronic, or debilitating than a typical headache.  In these cases, headache may be be a primary disorder rather than a symptom, or could be a condition that is co-occurring with another issue.

Although there are a myriad of specific headache experiences, for the most part these fall into one of three categories: migraine headache, tension headache, or cluster headache.

 

A migraine headache is identified by throbbing or aching pain, usually on one side of the
head. It is associated with irritability, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea
and vomiting. Women are three times more likely to have migraines than men.
Migraines, which often run in families, occur in variable forms.

A tension headache is the common term used to describe muscle contraction
headaches. Pain can be sharp, burning or throbbing at times. The headaches
frequently cause a tightness or “band-like” sensation around the head. The
headaches can also localize in the forehead, temple or in the back of the head
and neck. The pain can stay for hours, days or even weeks at a time.

Cluster headaches are rare and more common in men than in women. They often
begin in mid-life between 20 and 45 years of age. The pain is severe and often
described as a hot iron being twisted around through the temple or eye. Cluster
headaches can last from 15 minutes to three hours or longer. They tend to appear
in waves over a few weeks or months. The waves can occur once or twice a year.
The cluster headaches tend to occur at the same time of the day, sometimes
described as being like clockwork. Cluster headaches may be accompanied by a
stuffy or runny nose, red teary eyes, a flushed face and a droopy eyelid on the
side of the pain.

If you are unsure if you are experiencing a headache that fits one of these categories, it might be worth checking with your doctor to see if the cause and type can be identified.  According to the National Institute of Neurological DIsorders and Stroke,

“Not all headaches require a physician’s attention. But headaches can signal a more serious disorder that requires prompt medical care. Immediately call or see a physician if you or someone you’re with experience any of these symptoms:

  • Sudden, severe headache that may be accompanied by a stiff neck.
  • Severe headache accompanied by fever, nausea, or vomiting that is not related to another illness.
  • “First” or “worst” headache, often accompanied by confusion, weakness, double vision, or loss of consciousness.
  • Headache that worsens over days or weeks or has changed in pattern or behavior.
  • Recurring headache in children.
  • Headache following a head injury.
  • Headache and a loss of sensation or weakness in any part of the body, which could be a sign of a stroke.
  • Headache associated with convulsions.
  • Headache associated with shortness of breath.
  • Two or more headaches a week.
  • Persistent headache in someone who has been previously headache-free, particularly in someone over age 50.
  • New headaches in someone with a history of cancer or HIV/AIDS.”

Anytime you have a condition that is starting to interfere with your normal routine, or you have tried taking pain relievers and they do not help, it is a good idea to seek a doctor’s opinion.

 

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If you are dealing with headaches and need assistance in getting them under control, or would like to learn more about the Minnesota Headache Center (a service of Noran Neurological Clinic that is offered at all locations), you can find more information at http://www.noranclinic.com/patientsvisitors/hacenter.html.  You can also call to schedule an appointment with a neurologist experienced in the diagnosis and care of headaches at 612-879-1500.

 

 

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