Headache

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Author: Danette C. Taylor, DO, MS, FACN
    Danette C. Taylor, DO, MS, FACN

    Dr. Taylor has a passion for treating patients as individuals. In practice since 1994, she has a wide range of experience in treating patients with many types of movement disorders and dementias. In addition to patient care, she is actively involved in the training of residents and medical students, and has been both primary and secondary investigator in numerous research studies through the years. She is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine (Department of Neurology and Ophthalmology). She graduated with a BS degree from Alma College, and an MS (biomechanics) from Michigan State University. She received her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Her internship and residency were completed at Botsford General Hospital. Additionally, she completed a fellowship in movement disorders with Dr. Peter LeWitt. She has been named a fellow of the American College of Neuropsychiatrists. She is board-certified in neurology by the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. She has authored several articles and lectured extensively; she continues to write questions for two national medical boards. Dr. Taylor is a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council (MSAC) of the Alzheimer's Association of Michigan, and is a reviewer for the journal Clinical Neuropharmacology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

View the Headache and Migraine Triggers Slideshow

Quick GuideMigraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

Migraine or Headache? Migraine Symptoms, Triggers, Treatment

When should I seek medical care for a headache?

A patient should seek medical care if their headache is:

  • The "worst headache of your life." This is the wording often used in textbooks as a cue for medical practitioners to consider the diagnosis of a subarachnoid hemorrhage due to a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. The amount of pain will often be taken in context with the appearance of the patient and other associated signs and symptoms. Too often, patients are prompted to use this expression by a health-care professional and do not routinely volunteer the phrase.
  • Different than their usual headaches
  • Starts suddenly or is aggravated by exertion, coughing, bending over, or sexual activity
  • Associated with persistent nausea and vomiting
  • Associated with fever or stiff neck. A stiff neck may be due to meningitis or blood from a ruptured aneurysm. However, most patients who complain of a stiff neck have muscle spasm and inflammation as the cause.
  • Associated with seizures
  • Associated with recent head trauma or a fall
  • Associated with changes in vision, speech, or behavior
  • Associated with weakness or change in sensation on one side of their body that may be a sign of stroke.
  • Not responding to treatment or is getting worse
  • Requires more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter medications for pain
  • Disabling and interfering with work and quality of life

How do you get rid of a headache? Are home remedies effective for headaches?

It is important to at least think that an unusual headache may need to be evaluated by a health-care professional, but in most instances, primary tension headaches may be initially treated at home.

  • First steps include maximizing rest and staying well hydrated.
  • Recognizing and minimizing stressful situations may be of help, if that is one of the contributing causes of the headache.
  • If there has been a cold or runny nose recently, humidifying air may be helpful in allowing sinuses to drain.
  • Rubbing or massaging the temples or the muscles at the back of the neck may be soothing, as might warm compresses.
  • Over-the-counter pain medication may be helpful, in moderation.

Those with migraine headaches often have a treatment plan that will allow treatment at home. Prescription medications are available to abort or stop the headache. Other medications are available to treat the nausea and vomiting. Most patients with migraine headaches get much relief after resting in a dark room and falling asleep.

Patients who have secondary headaches will often need to seek medical care.

REFERENCES:

Beithon, J., et al. "Health Care Guideline Diagnosis and Treatment of Headache." 10th Edition. 2011.

International Headache Society; Headache Classification Committee of the International Headache Society (IHS). "The International Classification of Headache Disorders, 3rd edition (beta version)." Cephalagia. 33:9 (2013): 629-808.

International Headache Society. "The Classification; Part I: The Primary Headaches."
<http://ihs-classification.org/en/02_klassifikation/02_teil1/>

Olesen, J., et al. "The International Classification of Headache Disorders." 2nd Edition. International Headache Society (IHS). May 2005.

Steiner, T. J., et al. "Guidelines for All Healthcare Professionals in the Diagnosis and Management of Migraine, Tension-Type, Cluster and Medication-Overuse Headache." 3rd Edition. British Association for the Study of Headache. 18 Jan. 2007.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/25/2016

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