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When To See Your Doctor for a Headache or Migraine

Be smart; play it safe!


Updated: January 9, 2008

Doctor and Patient

Statistically, most headaches and migraine attacks are painful and disruptive, but not dangerous. Still, head pain can be a symptom of other conditions, some of them quite serious. Additionally, even though many of us have been told, "A migraine never killed anyone," that's not exactly true. There are cases where migraines cause strokes, and strokes can be fatal, including migrainous strokes. There are times when having a headache or migraine attack means you need to see a doctor. (See: Head Pain: NOT To Be Ignored!)

See your doctor if...

  • you have more than the occasional headache.
  • your headaches are severe or come on suddenly.
  • your headache is accompanied by any of the following (and have not discussed them with your doctor previously):
    • confusion
    • dizziness
    • fever
    • numbness
    • shortness of breath
    • slurred speech
    • stiff neck
    • persistent vomiting
    • unexpected symptoms affecting your ears, nose, throat, or eyes
    • unremitting diarrhea
    • vision loss
    • weakness
  • you have a headache that persists keeps getting worse and won't stop.
  • you have headaches that interfere with your normal activities.
  • you find yourself taking pain relievers more than two days a week.
  • you take over-the-counter medications for headache relief, and the recommended dosage isn't adequate.
  • coughing, sneezing, bending over, exercise, or sexual activity cause headaches.
  • you have headaches that began after a head injury or other trauma and continue.
  • the characteristics of your headaches change.
  • the symptoms of your migraine attacks change.

See your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if...

  • you're having your "worst headache ever."
  • you're having your "worst migraine attack ever."
  • your headache or migraine is accompanied by:
    • unresolved loss of vision
    • loss of consciousness
    • uncontrollable vomiting
  • the pain of a migraine attack lasts more than 72 hours with less than a solid four-hour pain-free period, while awake.
  • you experience a headache or Migraine attack that presents unusual symptoms that are abnormal for you and frightening.


There are times when headaches and/or unusual migraine symptoms are indications of something that needs medical care. Some people are reluctant to call their doctors or go to the emergency room because they don't want to get there and find out that nothing out of the ordinary is wrong. Please, don't be concerned about that. Get medical care if you think you may need it. Be safe.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Headaches & Migraines
  4. Headaches 101
  5. Headache Education
  6. When To See Your Doctor for a Headache or Migraine, from About Headaches and Migraine

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