Headache: What you should know
- The vast majority of headaches are not cause for alarm. However, headaches can serve as a warning sign of something more serious. See below for when to see your doctor for headaches.
- If you have recurring headaches, you may find certain foods or situations cause a headache. See Headache Triggers for more information.
- While a good night’s sleep can reduce tension headaches, try not to nap. According to research at Rush, napping to cope with chronic pain from tension headaches can lead to chronic insomnia, which, in turn, could lead to more headaches.
How can I get help for headaches?
Fortunately the majority of headaches do not signal a problem. But if headaches are affecting your quality of life, don’t ignore them. Your doctor can help you find relief.
For more on how to distinguish what kind of headache you’re experiencing, see Headache Types.
See your primary care doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Changes in the kind of headaches you regularly have, such as the location or type of pain
- Changes in any of the accompanying symptoms
- Severe headaches that rate a 6 or above on a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (the worst pain you’ve ever felt)
- Prolonged, persistent or worsening headaches
- Frequent headaches (daily or several times a week), particularly following a head injury or other physical trauma
- Headaches accompanied by nausea or intolerance to light
- Headaches that interfere with your ability to function
- Recurring headaches beginning after the age of 50
Go to the emergency room immediately if you experience any of the following:
- The worst headache you’ve ever had
- A severe migraine lasting more than three days
Headache accompanied by the following:
- Stiff neck
- Loss of consciousness
- Any neurologic symptoms: dizziness, weakness, confusion, numbness, slurred speech or vision changes
- Headaches that come on suddenly, without warning
Care for headaches at Rush
Most headaches will not require medical treatment; however, your primary care doctor may recommend you have further evaluation for your headaches because of an underlying condition from one of the following specialists at Rush:
- Physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, for headaches associated with traumatic brain injury or concussion
- Neurologists or neurosurgeons, for headaches associated with stroke, Chiari malformation, seizures or trigeminal neuralgia
- Pain management experts who specialize in all types of pain, including headaches. These experts at Rush are among the few in the country that place nerve stimulators for the relief of headaches
- Spine specialists, for headaches related to spine disorders
- Neuro-oncologists or other cancer specialists, for headaches caused by a brain tumor
- Sleep specialists, for headaches caused by sleep apnea or insomnia
Why choose Rush for headache care
- If your headache is caused by a serious underlying condition, Rush has specialists who will work with you to determine the cause of the problem and provide comprehensive, individualized care.