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When to Worry About a Bad Headache

women suffering from severe headaches

According to the World Health Organization, headaches are a common complaint affecting 50%-75% of adults throughout the world. Headaches are usually just minor annoyances. But they can be a sign of a serious health problem, particularly if the headache pain is severe or persistent.

20 Signs It's More Than a Bad Headache

Having a severe headache with other symptoms? Here are some signs you should go to the emergency room or call 911 right away:

Severe headaches can be a sign of several serious health issues.


Strokes occur when blood flow to your brain is interrupted. In addition to a bad headache, you may also notice numbness or weakness in an arm or leg, slurred speech, confusion, or difficulty walking.


Is your head pain accompanied by a fever, stiff neck, and a rash? You could have meningitis, an inflammation of the brain caused by a viral or bacterial infection.


Experiencing the worst headache you’ve ever had in your life? It could be an aneurysm, a bulging weak spot in an artery. Burst aneurysms can cause brain damage, blindness, memory problems, and even death.

Do You Have Migraines?

Talk with your providers about treatment options to keep them from getting worse.

Head Injuries

A concussion or brain hemorrhage following a fall or blow to the head could be responsible for your severe headache.

Brain Tumor

When a character on a TV show has a bad headache, viewers know a brain tumor is the most likely cause. Fortunately, brain tumors happen much less often in real life than they do on TV.

In addition to headaches, brain tumors or brain cancer can cause:

High Blood Pressure

A sudden increase in blood pressure increases pressure in your head, causing a headache. An intense headache may also be a sign of preeclampsia, a condition that causes blood pressure to rise dangerously high in pregnant women.


If you experience a severe headache after spending time outdoors on a hot day, heatstroke may be the culprit. Other heatstroke symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, cramping muscles, and lack of sweat.

Don’t wait to seek emergency care if you have a severe headache, especially if it’s accompanied by the symptoms listed above. If the pain is caused by a serious health condition, delaying treatment may be the difference between life and death.

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Tags: neuro

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