Most human beings will very likely experience a headache at some point in their lives. Any strain on the body can result in a headache. This could be travel, stress, lack of sleep or overworking of the body. Usually, these headaches are relieved by simple pain killers and some rest and relaxation.
So when should a headache alert you to see a doctor?
- Headache unrelieved by simple analgesic (pain medicine) and rest –If you have done this for a day or two and headache persists, it would be advisable to have a discussion with your local G.P to see if anything else could be going on. Things like high blood pressure and anemia will be evaluated amongst other medical conditions.
- Headache associated with fever – Any infection can cause fever and headache. Emphasis here is for a good history and examination/investigation to be done to determine the cause of the symptoms. Headache usually resolves once treatment for the cause of fever has been started. The causes could be associated with a simple cold, urinary infection, food poisoning, malaria and many other illnesses.
- Headache associated with neurological symptoms – Neurological symptoms include things like loss of consciousness, fainting, loss of balance and inability to coordinate limbs normally. This is a serious cause of headache as medical personnel must check for something going on in or around your brain tissue. This headache could signify a stroke or something occupying space in your brain like a tumor, blood, infections like TB amongst other things.
- Persistent/recurrent headaches – Persistent and/or recurrent headaches could point at a wide range of things like migraine headaches, tension headaches or eye problems requiring use of glasses, conditions like anemia, hypertension, sinusitis, slow bleeding in the brain or a brain tumor. It could also be a bodily manifestation of burn out.
- Headache associated with visual problems – Headache associated with visual problems could also suggest something occupying space in your brain like a tumor or bleeding leading to a stroke in a localized region. Could also suggest something less serious like migraines or visual defects requiring eye glasses.
- Headache like you have never had headache before in your life – If you suddenly experience headache that makes you feel like your head is going to explode and it debilitates you even for a short while, see your doctor. Strokes and space occupying lesions like tumors and bleeds in the brain will have to be investigated.
- Headache associated with injury to the head – If you have a minor injury in your place of work or home or are involved in an accident and you have a headache that either persists or is severe, one must be seen by a doctor. It does not matter whether one did not lose consciousness. Slow bleeds or any lesions increasing pressure on the brain must be ruled out.
- Family history of headaches – Some conditions like migraines do run in families so it would be good to see your doctor to ascertain if that is the cause or anything else. Trigger factors for migraines will then be sought for you as well as advice given on how to prevent and manage the headaches.
- Headache associated with nausea and/or vomiting – Headache that makes you feel nauseous or that is associated with vomiting especially in the absence of fever should be properly investigated. The causes could range from migraine headaches to brain lesions like a stroke or tumors.
- Headache secondary to persistent insomnia (lack of sleep) – If the headache is a consequence of lack of sleep then the cause of insomnia should be sought and managed as appropriate. Things like depression will be considered if other symptoms are found to satisfy the criteria for diagnosis. If no obvious cause is noted, then a few days of sedatives is given to try and regularize sleep and this will then sort out the headache.