Man in the gloom, grabbing his nose because of a strong headache.

Headache & Migraine

Headaches can be dull and throbbing, sharp and pinpointed, and can last for a few minutes or a few days. There are three main types of headaches: tension, migraine and cluster headaches. Each may have its own causes and different symptoms. Migraine headaches differ from tension headaches in that the pain is usually restricted to one side of the head, and may be described as throbbing, moderate to severe pain.

A couple sitting down. The man holds his head because of the hard pain.

Headache warning signs - and when to call the doctor

Headaches can happen to anyone, at any time, in any place.48,49 Thankfully, headaches are so common that for the most part they are nothing to worry about. In most cases, headache symptoms only last for a matter of minutes or hours.

But what if the pain doesn’t go away? And what if there are additional symptoms or sickness? More importantly, how can you tell when a headache is serious enough to seek medical care?

Headache warning signs

There are definite warning signs that signal a headache may be more serious. A sudden, severe headache or head pain that occurs with other signs of injury can be a symptom of a more serious medical condition.49

If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.49

Stiff neck and fever

Some headaches, such as tension headache, can be accompanied by a neck pain or a tightness in the neck. But a sudden, severe headache along with a very stiff neck and a fever and/or sensitivity to light could be a sign of a serious infection that requires medical attention.50

Woman in pain lying down with a severe headache.
Woman in front of the computer holding her head.

Numbness or weakness

Numbness or weakness with a headache, including slurred speech or difficulty walking could be symptomatic of a more serious condition. Speak with your doctor as soon as possible.49

Altered vision

Double, blurred vision or partial loss of vision with a headache.49

Woman about to take a painkiller while grabs her nose to relief a headache.
Woman holding her aching head.

Confusion, convulsions, or loss of consciousness

Confusion or loss of consciousness, when paired with a headache, are all warning signs of a serious illness or injury. These may occur with the onset of head pain or after experiencing a headache. Either way, you should seek immediate medical attention.49

Head injury

Any time a head injury results in a headache, consult a doctor right away.

Head pain following a head trauma could be a sign of damage that requires immediate medical treatment.49

Woman sitting on the floor, holding her aching pain.

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