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.
Other serious causes of headaches include:
Stiff neck, fever, and rash.They might indicate meningitis or other infections.
Elevated blood pressure.It can also cause headaches, and can occur if you have never been diagnosed with high blood pressure, or when you have been diagnosed and your blood pressure gets out of control.
In the video below, Dr. Sakib Qureshi MD, a neurologist, explains the “red light warning signals” that may accompany certain headaches, and how to differentiate between a temporary headache and something that may be more life-threatening.
Before just popping a few pills when you feel the onset of a headache or a migraine, take the time to notice your symptoms and to make sure there isn’t something more serious going on.
While painkillers may work for temporary relief, I’ve included some more natural options to help you alleviate your pain.
1. Tension Headache
A tension headache is the most common type of a headache. It feels like a constant ache or pressure around your head, especially at your temples or the back of your head and neck. A tension headache isn’t as severe as a migraine, so it won’t typically cause nausea or vomiting. Experts believe this type of a headache may be caused by the contraction of neck and scalp muscles, which can be a response to stress.
How to treat it: Ginger tea can help to reduce inflammation, and adding peppermint oil to your hairline can create a cooling sensation. Combining these two natural remedies will help to eliminate the pain of a tension headache.
Migraines are most common between the ages of 25 and 55, but no matter your age, you could experience one as well. They include a severe recurring and intense throbbing pain on one side of the head, accompanied with other symptoms that can include visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell, and tingling or numbness in the face. This type of a headache tends to radiate from the top of the face downward.
How to treat it: Vitamin B12 (riboflavin), has been shown to help those who suffer from migraines, as have magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. Make sure you are getting enough of these in your diet on a daily basis to help prevent migraine attacks.
3. Cluster Headache
Cluster headaches usually over one eye, and they affect more men than women. A cluster headache is recurring, and it can occur in a group or a cycle. A cluster headache can appear suddenly and cause a severe, debilitating pain on one side of the head. When experiencing a cluster headache, you may also experience a watery eye and nasal congestion or a runny nose. The cause is unknown, but this type of a headache occurs when a nerve pathway in the base of a brain is activated.
How to treat it: The active ingredient in capsaicin cream is cayenne pepper. Apply a small amount of this cream to your nostril where you are experiencing pain. It can help to block nerve pain signals.
4. Sinus Headache
A sinus headache occurs when a sinus becomes inflamed, and it can lead to pain. Sinus headaches are caused by an infection, and they are usually accompanied by a fever, and pressure around the eyes, cheeks, and forehead.
How to treat it: Drink lots of fluids to hydrate your body. Warm water can help open your sinuses and reduce inflammation. Vitamin C is rich in antioxidants and can aid the body in fighting infections, so eat a few oranges or other foods rich in Vitamin C, or sip on some lemon green tea. You may also try a hot and cold compress, warm soup, and some fresh ginger, which contains anti-inflammatory and pain killing properties.