Headache Warning Signs and  when to call the doctor

Headache warnings

Headache warning signs and when to call the doctor

Headaches, unfortunately, are fairly common1 and can happen to anyone, at any time, in any place.2

Thankfully, headaches are so common that for the most part they are nothing to worry about. In almost all cases, head pain, neck pain and the other symptoms of a headache will goes away in a day or so.

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 just a headache — and when to seek medical care?

Headache warning signs

It’s not always easy to know when to consult a doctor about a headache. But there are some definite warning signs that signal that 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.2

If you experience any of the following symptoms with a headache, call a doctor or seek other immediate medical attention.2

Stiff neck and fever

Some  headaches, such as tension headache, can be accompanied by neck pain.3 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.4

Numbness or weakness

Numbness or weakness with a headache, including slurred speech, difficulty speaking, or difficulty walking could be symptomatic of a more serious condition.2,4 Speak with your doctor about whether additional treatment is needed.

Altered vision

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

Confusion, convulsions, or loss of consciousness

When paired with a headache, confusion, convulsions, or loss of consciousness are all warning signs of serious illness or injury.2, 4 These may occur with the onset of head pain or after experiencing a headache. Either way, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Head injury

Any time a head injury results in a headache, consult a doctor right away.2,4 Head pain following a head trauma could be a sign of damage that requires treatment from a healthcare professional.


  1. Stovner, LJ, et al. The global burden of headache: a documentation of headache prevalence and disability worldwide. Cephalalgia, 2007; 27: 193-210. Available at: http://www.l-t-b.org/assets/67/91367926-D374-BAA8 AB51FFB2214CADE4_document/Stovner_2007.pdf.
  2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health. Headache: Hope Through Research. October 2009. NIH Publication No. 09-158. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/detail_headache.htm. Accessed August 2010.
  3. UK Clinical Knowledge Summaries. Headache – assessment. Available at: http://www.cks.nhs.uk/headache_assessment#-338801. Accessed August 2010.