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When Is It Time to Worry About a Headache

by | Sep 12, 2023

Headaches are very common and most are not concerning. But in some cases, headaches can signal something more serious. Knowing the signs of when to worry can help you get the proper diagnosis and treatment when needed.

calm peaceful woman tracking headaches in journal

When Should You Worry About a Headache

Do you feel sick to your stomach? Are you going to vomit or feel nauseous? You could even feel a sharp, intense, and throbbing pain in your head on one side, both sides, or the entire area. It might be due to a stiff neck accompanied by a fever. Some individuals have more debilitating headaches than others, severely affecting their quality of life. Headache is a very common condition that affects virtually anyone. If you’re experiencing dizziness or a sudden, intense headache asking “Why am I getting these headaches?”, then you’ve come to the right place. Clinically, there are two commonest type of headaches, which are migraine and tension headache.

Once you are better informed about the different types of headaches depending on their severity, it is advisable to consult a headache specialist. This is to determine whether you need treatment. Severe headaches do not require immediate intervention and can be regularly assessed. Some headaches are mild and may not cause any significant issues while others can indicate underlying problems. Read more about the right time to promptly seek the expertise of a headache specialist in Singapore like Dr. Manish Taneja if you exhibit any signs of the following types of headaches.  

 

What is a Headache? 

A headache is pain or discomfort in the head, scalp, or neck area. Headaches can vary in how often they occur, how severe they are, and what parts of the head they affect.

There are over 150 types of headaches. The most common include tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. Headaches can also sometimes result from underlying medical conditions like strokes, brain aneurysms, or infections.

The Different Types of Headaches

Common Types of Headache

Here are the most common types of headache:

  • Tension headaches – The most common type, causing mild to moderate pain over the entire head. Tension headaches are often triggered by stress, poor posture, or muscle tension in the neck and scalp.

  • Migraines – Throbbing headaches that are often one-sided and accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can be triggered by certain foods, hormonal changes, stress, and other factors.
  • Cluster headaches – Severe, one-sided headaches that occur in clusters or cycles. They are characterized by excruciating pain around one eye and may cause eye redness and tears.
  • Medication overuse headaches – Headaches resulting from taking pain medication too frequently. Can occur from overusing medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or opioids.
  • Sinus headaches – Pain and pressure around the sinus cavities, often associated with sinus congestion or infection.

Regardless of the kind of headache you experience, it is possible to find relief. Learn more about the symptoms and causes headaches in our blog post, “Headaches: What It is, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment”,  so that you can be more informed.

You might also need to see a doctor if you have a high potential of having an aneurysm burst or show any stroke symptoms. We provide neurointerventional care and treatments at our specialized brain aneurysm and stroke clinic at Supreme Vascular and Interventional Clinic in Singapore.

Types of Brain Aneurysm Headaches

A brain aneurysm headache is a severe and sudden headache caused by the rupture or leakage of a blood vessel in the brain. 

What Causes Headaches?

Headaches can result from many factors, including:

  • Muscle tension or muscle spasms in the neck and scalp area
  • Dilated or constricted blood vessels in the brain
  • Chemical activity in the brain
  • Swelling or infection of the sinuses
  • Head injuries
  • Medication overuse
  • Genetics
  • Hormonal changes
  • Poor posture
  • Stress and emotional distress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Eye strain
  • Jaw or dental issues

As mentioned above, in some cases, serious underlying conditions can cause headaches, like brain aneurysms or strokes. The Ultimate Guide to Brain Aneurysm post can help you learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for this potentially life-threatening condition.

When to Worry About Headaches

Most headaches are not concerning. But certain symptoms can be signs of a more serious problem requiring medical care.

Top Warning Signs

See your doctor if you experience any of these headache red flags:

  • Sudden and severe headache – Headaches reaching maximum intensity within seconds or minutes can indicate bleeding or stroke. Seek emergency care immediately.
  • Worsening pattern – Headaches that become more frequent or painful over time could signal an underlying condition.
  • Associated symptoms – Headaches accompanied by fever, stiff neck, confusion, seizures, double vision, weakness, or loss of consciousness can be serious.
  • New headache after age 50 – New headache types appearing later in life may require evaluation to rule out causes like aneurysm or tumor.
  • Headache awakening you – Headaches that wake you up, especially when severe or early in the morning, can indicate a serious cause.
  • Persistent headache – Headaches lasting more than a few days without relief from medication may warrant medical advice.
  • Headache during sexual intercourse – Occasionally, you may experience a headache during sex.

 

Tension Headaches

The most common type of headache, this generalized pain happens over the entire head known as a “hat band”. Chemical and neuronal imbalances in the brain or muscle tightening in the head or back of the neck are known to be the underlying causes. They may happen as episodes, frequently, or even a chronic daily headache at worst. Tension headaches are generally not concerning and respond well to over-the-counter pain medication and lifestyle modifications. See your doctor if tension headaches become unusually frequent or start interfering with your daily life.

Migraines

Although it is hereditary and more common in women, people experience migraines differently and this kind of headache is characterized by throbbing pain. Migraine sufferers experience nausea, vomiting, light, and sound sensitivity. It may even stop you from doing daily tasks and activities. Seek emergency care if you experience:

  • Sudden severe headache with no history of migraines
  • Headache with fever, stiff neck, or neurological symptoms
  • New headaches or substantial change in migraine patterns after age 50

Otherwise, track your migraine patterns and see your doctor if you experience:

  • Increase in frequency or severity
  • Migraines that are unresponsive to medication
  • New “aura” symptoms (visual disturbances to light, flashes, blind spots, or zigzag lines) like vision loss or weakness

Once migraines attack, it can last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours. Your doctor can help identify migraine triggers and adjust preventive medication if needed.  Patients have also been confused between the differences and similarities of migraines and brain aneurysms. Our article, “Migraine vs. Brain Aneurysm” explains the common symptoms and how to differentiate between these two conditions.

Cluster Headaches

Known to be more common in men, these “clusters” of attacks are relatively short and start suddenly with severe pain on one side of the head or neck. Cluster headache attacks are excruciating but not dangerous. They may last several weeks or months and then disappear.  Seek medical attention if you have:

  • Cluster headaches for the first time after age 50
  • Drastic change in your cluster headache cycles
  • Cluster headaches that become more severe or frequent

Otherwise, pain management and preventive medication can help reduce cluster headache attacks.

Headaches Related to Brain Aneurysm or Stroke

A burst brain aneurysm can cause an abrupt, severe “thunderclap” headache. With an aneurysm, every minute counts. Seek emergency care if you experience:

  • Sudden, severe headache unlike anything you’ve felt before
  • Stiff neck or nausea/vomiting
  • Symptoms like blurred vision, seizures, or loss of consciousness

Ischemic strokes can also cause severe headache along with numbness, weakness, and other stroke symptoms. Fast treatment is vital to minimize brain damage and disability.  Strokes are a serious medical condition that require immediate attention. Dr. Manish Taneja has personalized stroke management and prevention programs as well as a dedicated stroke screening program designed to identify individuals who may be at risk of a stroke or have already experienced one, even if they are not yet showing symptoms.

Read our “Stroke Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment: A Complete Guide” blog post to stay informed about the types of stroke, symptoms, screening, diagnosis, treatment options, stroke management, and more. 

Distinguishing between common headaches and potentially life-threatening ones linked to brain aneurysm is crucial for your well-being and your loved ones. Learn more about the serious ones in our other article, “Is My Headache a Brain aneurysm?“.

When to Seek Emergency Care

Seek emergency care for any of the “red flag” symptoms, including:

  • Sudden, severe, “worst headache of your life”
  • Headache with fever and neck stiffness
  • Confusion, difficulty speaking, or other neurological symptoms
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Headaches after injury or trauma to the head
  • Loss of consciousness with headache

Call 9-9-5 immediately if you or a loved one is experiencing any of these accompanying a headache, brain aneurysm, or stroke.

 

Headache Testing and Treatment

Based on your symptoms, your doctor may order tests like:

  • Neurological exam – Checks senses, reflexes, balance, and cognitive function. Can help identify neurological causes.
  • CT or MRI scans – Provides images of the brain to rule out tumors, hemorrhage, stroke, or aneurysm.
  • Spinal tap – Testing of spinal fluid can diagnose infections like meningitis.
  • Blood tests – Can detect inflammation, infections, or medication side effects contributing to headaches.

Treatment depends on the headache type and cause but can include:

  • Over-the-counter or prescription pain medication
  • Preventive medication to reduce frequency or severity
  • Muscle relaxers and physical therapy for tension headaches
  • Stress management and trigger avoidance for migraines
  • Surgery for brain aneurysms or tumors
  • Antibiotics for infections like meningitis
  • Rehabilitation post-stroke

Seeing a neurointervention specialist who specializes in headaches may be needed for proper diagnosis and management if headaches persist. It’s important to follow the instructions and to take any prescribed medication.

Supreme Vascular and Interventional Clinic Is Here to Help

Most headaches are not a major concern. But pay attention to any red flag symptoms, as well as substantial changes in headache patterns or unexplained severe headaches. Seek emergency care for sudden, severe headaches or those accompanied by fever, neck pain, neurological issues, or loss of consciousness.

Tracking your headaches in a journal can help identify triggers and changes over time. Consult Dr. Manish Taneja to find relief through preventive medication, lifestyle changes, pain management, and prompt treatment of any underlying conditions. Don’t delay care if you have any worrying headache signs – early intervention can prevent serious complications. We invite you to fill in and submit contact information and inquiry details on our contact page and we will be more than glad to work with you to get back to your full health.

Headache Assessment

Assessment of headache involves a detailed clinical assessment including history and physical examination. This is followed by imaging scan such as MRI/MRA which in most cases is done to exclude any structural cause of headache. MRI scan does not involve any radiation or contrast injection with no side effects and high degree of accuracy.

Most patients presenting with headache are managed medically with excellent response to treatment. There are various over the counter and prescription based medication available both for treating acute episodes of headache as well as to prevent episodes of severe headache. Newer injection based treatments given to prevent headache on a monthly or 3-4 monthly basis have added another dimension to treat patients effectively.

Additional Headache Management Techniques

Interventional headache management techniques are additional treatment option in these patients. These are offered to patients that do not respond to medical management or have significant side effects to medications. Often,  these are combined with medical management in patients.

Interventional treatments include nerve blocks (usually ultrasound guided ) and botox injections. These treatments are usually done in clinic with patients able to go home immediately after treatment. There are more several types of neurointerventional treatments we offer to treat different problems that occur in the brain, spine, head, and neck. If you experience headaches, it can be a non-specific neurological symptom of brain aneurysm.

Consult a Seasoned Headache Specialist

Headaches can be burdensome. With a blend of advanced diagnostics, cutting-edge technologies, and compassionate care, Dr. Manish Taneja, our neurointervention specialist, is here to help you find the freedom from headaches you deserve.

Dr. Manish Taneja, a certified neurointervention specialist based in Singapore, has extensive experience treating complex vascular and non-vascular disorders. He can provide expert guidance regarding treatment options considering your specific headache condition. Come in for a further evaluation and contact us today to schedule a comprehensive consultation.

Dr. Manish Taneja, brain aneurysm specialist, giving consultation at Supreme Vascular and Interventional Clinic in Singapore

Stroke Resources

Why Women Have a Higher Risk of Stroke

Women have a higher stroke risk due to a combination of biological, hormonal, and lifestyle factors that interact to create a unique set of risk factors in comparison to men.

Two smiling beautiful women

We’ve Got You Covered for Specialized Stroke Screening, Prevention, and Management

Imagine heart attacks where the blood flow to your heart is blocked. Similarly, a stroke occurs when the blood flow to your brain is interrupted becoming a “brain attack”. When blood supply does not reach a certain part, brain cells begin to die. Different types of stroke include ischemic strokes (blockage of blood vessel due to blood clot) or a mini stroke, a TIA (transient ischemic attack), with no permanent damage yet serious. Stroke also occurs when a blood vessel in the brain pops causing bleeding in the brain.

Certain areas of the brain can be affected by stroke and some symptoms of a stroke including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood sugar levels increase the risk of stroke whereas an active lifestyle or controlling high cholesterol reduces the risk. How well do you know stroke? Find tips to prevent and manage stroke, the differences in stroke screening tests, and the newer technology and treatments available. Come in for an easy consultation and further evaluation with our stroke specialist in Singapore at the Supreme Vascular and Interventional Clinic. 

Supreme Vascular and Interventional Stroke Programs

Brain Aneurysm Resources

Discover brain aneurysm resources that go beyond the basics designed for patients. Understand the meaning of  a brain aneurysm condition, the causes, symptoms, signs, and more. Connect with your brain health.

Put Brain Aneurysm on Your Health Radar

Did you experience the worst headache of your life? Could it be a brain aneurysm that ruptures, which means bleeding in the brain? Thoughts could be racing through your mind. Then what is the difference between unruptured (a weak or thin spot on an artery in the brain that balloons) or ruptured brain aneurysm? If you’re wondering, then the Supreme Vascular and Interventional Clinic is here to help. It’s important to look out for the tell-tale brain aneurysm symptoms, signs, causes, and risk factors.

Dr. Manish Taneja has been performing brain aneurysm treatments since 1995 from surgical clipping to latest minimally invasive procedures. Each patient is unique as is the size and location of the aneurysm. Your brain has different conditions to treat the aneurysm and artery vessel walls of a blood vessel in the brain. This calls for personalised brain aneurysm treatment depending on your symptoms, family, history, medication, and more. A simple CT scan could be just what the doctor ordered and the first step in early detection and prevention of a brain aneurysm. Come in for an easy consultation with our brain aneurysm specialist in Singapore to be on your health radar.

Other Health Conditions

The Supreme Vascular and Interventional Clinic is your “go-to” facility for various conditions and treatments. To arrange an appointment with Dr. Manish Taneja, our neurointervention specialist, contact us. You can also call us at (+65) 6904 8084 for a consultation.