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When Do Headaches Become Worrisome?

Almost everyone has suffered a headache at some point in their lives or the other. It is a nagging pain in the head which is more of an annoyance than anything else. In some cases, headaches may be so debilitating that the individual may be required to sit in a closed dark room for hours at a time. There are many medications available over the counter which either cure the headache or take the edge off of it. There are also home remedies like lime juice or some form of food which relieves the headache [2].

However, if the headaches are not relieved by any of the available conservative measures then it tends to signify an underlying condition which may be potentially serious like a stroke, clot, or even a tumor. However, such instances are extremely rare [1].

Studies estimate 50% of the general population suffers from chronic form of headaches. There is no age barrier when it comes to headaches. Anyone of any age group or ethnicity can get a headache that may so severe to impact the personal and professional life of an individual. It should be noted that it is extremely rare that headaches require investigations from a specialist [1].

There are two forms of headaches, the primary and secondary. While primary headaches are more common and are seen in more than 95% of people it is the secondary headaches that are believed to be more serious. Nonetheless it is vital to know when headache becomes worrisome and needs a checkup of a physician [1].

When Do Headaches Become Worrisome?

When Do Headaches Become Worrisome?

Majority of the headaches can be taken care of with over the counter medications and home remedies or get some preventive medication from the physician for recurring headaches. However, there are some forms of headaches that require immediate investigation and aggressive treatment. This is when headaches become worrisome [1].

They are usually termed as secondary headaches and point towards a more serious underlying pathology. Some of the signs which make headaches worrisome for an individual include.

Sudden development of frequent bouts of searing headaches especially after the age of 50. Individuals Who previously rarely had a headache suddenly start having frequent unrelenting headaches especially once they cross the age of 50 is a sign of an underlying medical condition which may require further investigation and evaluation by a neurologist [1].

Change of Pattern. If an individual notices a sudden change in the pattern of the headaches such as an increase in frequency, intensity, or severity then it also is a cause of worry and should be evaluated thoroughly by a neurologist [2].

Increased Severity. If an individual has a history of headaches but of late has been having a sudden severity of it without any aggravating factors involved then it is also a sign of an underlying medical condition which may be potentially serious and is a cause of worry to the affected individual [2].

Increase in Severity with Movement. If the severity of the headache increases with movement or activities like coughing and sneezing then it also is a cause for worry and should be evaluated for an underlying cause by a neurologist [2].

Gradually Worsening Headaches. If an individual starts having bouts of headache that start off as a dull ache and gradually gets worse and becomes unrelenting and debilitating then it also signifies an underlying medical condition at play which requires medical intervention [2].

Personality Change. If the headache results in a change in mental function, problems focusing and concentrating, and personality change then it is a matter of great worry. This should be immediately be evaluated to look for an underlying cause [2].

Headaches Accompanied by Neurological Symptoms. If headaches are accompanied by neurological symptoms like visual disturbance, speech problems, numbness and weakness of one side of the body or both, or seizures then it is a sign of worry. The individual should be immediately taken to the emergency room for an evaluation to rule out more serious etiology for the headaches [2].

Headaches with Eye Pain. If headaches are accompanied by painful bloodshot eyes, then it may signify involvement of the optic nerves. This is a cause of worry and needs evaluation by both neurologist and an ophthalmologist [2].

Headaches Post Head Trauma. If an individual starts to develop headaches after an injury or trauma to the head either due to an accident or a sporting injury it again is a cause of worry. For such people it is necessary to get evaluated in the emergency room as it may be a sign of concussion [2].

Abrupt Onset Headaches. Sudden onset headaches without any warning or prodrome are also a cause of worry to individuals. These types of headaches may have numerous etiologies some of which may be serious. Thus it is a must to get evaluated and rule out a serious cause to these headaches [2].

Additionally, People who are suffering from cancer or conditions that compromise the immune system of the body start developing headaches as an additional symptom need to be evaluated. This is because headaches in immune compromised patients are a sign of worry and normally signifies spread of cancer of aggravation of the immune condition [2].


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4590146/
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/headache-when-to-worry-what-to-do
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 12, 2019

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