When Is a Headache a Medical Emergency?

May 01, 2023
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When Is a Headache a Medical Emergency?

96% of people experience a headache at some point in their life. Headaches can arise due to lack of sleep, sinus problems, stress, dehydration, hormonal changes, missed meals, injury, or irritants. 

Furthermore, Migraines are neurological events that manifest as significant headaches often accompanied by auras, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea. 

An occasional headache is normal and nothing to worry about. Usually, it can be resolved with over-the-counter pain medications and rest. If you have chronic headaches or headaches that occur frequently or worsen, seek medical care — but you don’t need to head to the emergency room. 

That said, our team at St. Michael’s Elite Hospital in Sugar Land, Texas, knows that some headaches require emergency care. Read on to learn if your headache symptoms mean you should head to the ER. 

Experiencing additional symptoms

If you or a loved one has a headache accompanied by confusion or a high fever, emergency care is needed. Other worrisome symptoms that require immediate intervention include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Prolonged vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Numbness or weakness

These symptoms may indicate a significant condition, like stroke, that requires immediate care to prevent long-term complications. 

Unresponsive to medication

If a headache is excruciating and does not respond to over-the-counter medications, emergency care may be needed for you to get relief.

Can’t perform basic tasks

When a headache makes daily tasks, like eating and drinking, impossible, head to the ER. Head pain this severe puts you at risk of dehydration or malnutrition. 

Symptoms feel different

If the symptoms of your current headache feel notably different than any you’ve experienced before, seek emergency care. That could mean the nature, frequency, or severity of your event is more intense. If headache pain rapidly worsens, get an immediate evaluation.

Sudden and severe pain

A headache that comes on suddenly and severely deserves immediate care. It could be a symptom of a stroke. 

Complications from medications

If you took over-the-counter or prescription medications for your headache but experience worrisome side effects, you need emergency care. Significant side effects include nausea, vomiting, or severe drowsiness.

Your headache appears after an injury

If you’ve had a head injury or been in an accident and developed a headache, get emergency care immediately. You may have a concussion or brain bleeding that could endanger your health. 

Experiencing neurological symptoms

A headache accompanied by neurological symptoms is also of grave concern. Get immediate care if you or a loved one also has:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden loss of balance or falling.
  • Paralysis
  • Speech difficulties
  • Mental confusion
  • Seizures
  • Vision changes

Sudden personality changes with headaches also indicate a neurological problem.

If you or a loved one has intense or worrisome headache pain, don’t hesitate to reach out to St. Michael’s Elite Hospital. Contact our hospital to schedule an appointment immediately or make your way to our emergency room.