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When To Seek Medical Advice

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 2 May 2013 | comments*Discuss
Headaches Migraines Medical Treatment

Most headaches aren't life threatening but they can still be extremely painful and disruptive, sometimes on a daily basis. Headaches due to stress can be quite common and the occasional headache that is temporary and goes away without any symptoms out of the ordinary is not normally cause for worry. There are, however, instances, where you should consider seeking medical advice.

Severe or Sudden Headaches

If you have experienced a blow to the head, a fall or any other immediate trauma, even if minor, you should usually see a doctor to ensure no lasting damage. A headache may be the only symptom of anything wrong and you may require x-rays.

One fear some people experience is that a headache that appears suddenly may indicate a brain tumour. In fact, a headache is very rarely the initial symptom you would experience if you did indeed have a brain tumour. If your headache occurred alongside any major changes in cognitive functioning, as well as other symptoms such as vomiting, you should see a doctor immediately.

Headaches with Sensory Disturbances and Unusual Symptoms

A doctor should investigate headaches that are accompanied by visual problems such as flashing lights and zig-zag lines, as well as hearing loss and tingling around the body. You may be suffering from migraines and these are not a fleeting mild headache. You may find that these intense headaches are brought on after eating certain foods or participating in high-exertion activities, for example.

Recurring Headaches

If you are experiencing a particular type of headache frequently, especially when it occurs at the same time each day and under similar circumstances, it is likely that there is a triggering condition or factor in your body or the environment. By making an appointment to see your doctor, you can explain the symptoms and circumstances and he or she can order any tests to rule out more serious conditions.

Persistent Headaches

If your headaches last for a long time and tends to be unresponsive to over-the-counter medication, they may indicate something more serious. Stress headaches don't usually last for several days. Therefore, a medical professional should investigate the presence of lasting pain.

Headaches That Disrupt Normal Activity

Most of us have the occasional headache from factors such as too little sleep, low blood sugar from a missed meal or dehydration, and these headaches don't generally stop the normal flow of the day completely. If you find that headache pain is severe, persistent and prevents you from normal functioning, you should see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Nobody should suffer from headaches each day and you deserve a headache management plan that allows you to function to the best of your ability.

New Headaches

If you have previously not been experiencing headaches and you find you are having them regularly, it is important that you see your doctor to be sure there is no underlying physical cause. Even if they are triggered by an emotional event, you will still need to address your headaches and your doctor may suggest counselling or a similar therapy to help you deal with the event as well as any accompanying depression or anxiety that might be present.

Changes In Headache Pattern

If you have previously experienced headaches and are undergoing medical treatment, but find that your headache pattern has changed, speak with your doctor. You may have developed a new condition or it may be that your treatment plan needs to be altered to address the change in your headaches. Headache patterns do commonly change and your treatment plan needs to change with them, which can help keep your pain under control.

Frequent Pain Relief Medication

If you are experiencing regular headaches and have also been using pain relief medication frequently, more than once or twice a week, it is important that you see your doctor. Not only are you at risk of medication overuse and subsequent rebound headaches, but also you may be suffering from any number of medical conditions that are causing your headaches. If you are self-diagnosing and simply masking your symptoms with medication, any underlying disorder can therefore progress untreated.

When to Go To Emergency

If your headache is accompanied by uncontrollable diarrhoea or vomiting and you experience severe visual symptoms such as total loss of vision or unconsciousness, you should go to an emergency room. Any headache that is of a long duration, usually more than seventy-two hours, is case for immediate medical attention.

If you can, keep a headache diary for a few weeks and make notes of what you eat each day as well as what your symptoms are and when they occur. Also note any special circumstances or stressful situations that are occurring and may be triggering your headaches. The more information you can provide to your doctor, the better he or she can make an accurate diagnosis.

Some people are hesitant to see a doctor for fear that they are overreacting or that there isn't anything truly wrong. It's best to err on the side of caution. The sooner you receive an accurate diagnosis, the sooner you can begin a treatment plan for your headaches.

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