Headaches are extremely common. Fortunately, they usually go away without causing further problems. Even many chronic headaches, such as migraines and cluster headaches, are not considered signs of more severe, underlying problems. They may need to be treated to improve your life, but they won’t put your life at risk.
That said, certain types of headaches should be considered potential warning signs of more serious health problems.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, make immediate arrangements to see a doctor, or go to the emergency room.
According to the American Headache Society, it’s helpful to remember the word “SNOOP,” which stands for:
- Systemic symptoms.In addition to a headache, you feel symptoms in other parts of your body. This could be a fever, loss of appetite, or weight loss. It also stands for secondary risk factors, so if you have a headache in addition to HIV or cancer, call your doctor immediately.
- Neurologic symptoms.These symptoms include confusion, blurry vision, personality changes, weakness on one side of the body, numbness, or sharp facial pain.
- This means that a headache happens suddenly, with no warning. Sometimes these are called “thunderclap” headaches. This can occur when headaches are caused by bleeding in the brain.
- If you are older than 50 and experience a new or progressive headache, call your doctor. You could have giant cell arteritis or a brain tumor.
- There is cause for concern if it is significantly different than your other headaches, if headaches are happening more often, or it is the worst headache you have ever had.