When does a headache become serious?

Headaches are surprisingly common although the reason for having a headache is not always clear. Research suggests that stress can play a factor in triggering headaches. But, there are a number of other reasons. These include the food you eat, especially processed meats that are high in nitrates. Alcohol can also be a headache trigger as it causes dehydration.

A lack of sleep is another reason to have a headache. In general, these headaches are not concerning. Secondary headaches are headaches that are a result of something else being wrong in the body. For example:

  • Brain aneurysms
  • Concussion
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Brain tumours
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Meningitis

There are many more diseases that can cause secondary headaches. If you’re suffering from one of these it’s advisable to see a reputable neurosurgeon as soon as possible. They can complete a full diagnosis, identify the issue, and help with treatment options.

All you need to know is how to tell when a headache becomes a serious concern.

It’s Sudden

Most people who suffer from headaches know what triggers them and this helps to deal with them. However, if you suddenly get a headache and there is no specific reason why you’ll want to get medical assistance.

It can be considered an emergency if the headache goes from nothing to extreme pain in less than five minutes and it is the worst headache you’ve ever experienced.


Some medication increases the risk of headaches and you should be sure to check the side effects if you’ve just changed or started some medications and also started experiencing headaches.

But, if you’re taking blood thinners this decreases the likelihood of headaches. Therefore, being on blood thinners and having a headache needs to be taken seriously. It’s a warning sign.

Other Issues

If your headache is accompanied by slurred speech or numbness in your leg or arm, then it is highly likely that your headache is a sign of a stroke or even a brain aneurysm. You’re going to need medical help fast to help deal with the issue and potentially save your life.

Includes Neck Pain

Headaches can appear in various spots across your head but are usually centred at the front of your head. So, if you suddenly get a headache that is painful at the back of your head, especially if the pain travels down your head and into your neck, you’re dealing with a serious headache and need to get help.


Being older isn’t enough by itself to make any headache serious. However, when you’re older than 50 it is important to note you’re at higher risk of many diseases. A headache, especially if you don’t usually get them, can be a sign that something is not right.

You should seek help from your doctor and be alert to the possibility it’s a sign of something more serious.

Remember, you know your body best and you will know if the headache is unusual or different to normal. That’s a sign you need to have it checked out.

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