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Woman with a headache holding her hand to her temple

When to Worry: Headaches

Most adults have to deal with a common headache every now and again, but the symptoms usually dissipate on their own. Sometimes, however, headaches can be more severe and worrisome than usual, raising the question of whether something more serious is going on. According to OhioHealth’s Dr. Douglas Woo, there are two situations when it is worthwhile to see a physician about a headache.

Man with headache holding his hand to his temple

Strong and Sudden

“If someone who doesn’t usually suffer from headaches suddenly develops a headache out-of-the-blue which is the worst headache of their life and accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, blurred vision, or fever then you should think about your doctor or going to the emergency room,” says Woo. Potential causes of this type of acute headache include sudden bleeding (also known as hemorrhage) into the brain, or an infection such as meningitis. These situations can be life-threatening and warrant prompt testing.

Woman with a headache talking to a doctor

It’s Getting Worse

Another issue that could make a visit to a physician worthwhile, is if someone with chronic but stable and tolerable headaches, has symptoms that steadily worsen to the point of disrupting function. “If you are having difficulties with sleep, fatigue, or you just can’t think straight because of severe headaches, then it’s good to see what other options there are for improving your headaches,” says Woo.

If someone has a worsening chronic headache that is not due to some other known underlying process (e.g. tumor), they could be dealing with what issues known as “myofascial trigger points”. According to Woo, these trigger points are knots that tighten up in your body, creating tension, pain or squeezing. “They are a far more common cause of chronic headaches than anything I’ve ever seen,” says Woo.

Therapeutic options for chronic headaches caused by trigger points include massage, heat, physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation, and trigger point injections.

Need to find a neurologist to discuss your headaches? Find an OhioHealth physician here