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Headache Warning Signs

A Mnemonic to Organize Your Thoughts


Updated June 18, 2014

The American Headache Society has a handy mnemonic device for remembering headache warning signs -- reasons to call your doctor right away. All you have to do is remember to “SNOOP.”

S -- Systemic Symptoms

This refers to any symptoms, in addition to your headache, that affect the body as a whole. Some systemic symptoms include fevers, muscle pain, and weight loss. This “S” can also refer to secondary risk factors, other major medical issues such as HIV or cancer.

N -- Neurological Signs or Symptoms

Any headaches associated with changes in your cognition or mental functioning, or deficits in one area of the body (e.g., weakness on one side of the body or drooping on one side of the face), should be reported to your healthcare provider.

O -- Onset

What you should be thinking about with this one is how fast did your headache set in, and what seemed to cause it. Headaches that hit suddenly and severely, without warning (also called “thunderclap headaches”) can be a sign of stroke or another neurological problem. If straining, coughing, or sexual activity causes a headache to appear, you should also discuss this with your healthcare provider.

O -- Older Age of Onset

If you are a bit older when you first start to experience headaches, you may actually have a more significant problem than simple migraines.

P -- Prior Headache History

Compare a current headache with headaches you have experienced in the past. If your headache pattern has changed, or this is the worst headache you have ever had, is would be wise to discuss this with your healthcare provider.

Aside from being painful and annoying, headaches are often just that -- headaches. They do not indicate that you absolutely have a more significant illness or condition, but taking the time to assess your headaches using the SNOOP mnemonic can give you peace of mind and a more organized way to classify your headaches.


M Levin. Teaching case: Chiari type I/cerebellar ectopia headaches: complete resolution following posterior fossa decompressive surgery. Headache. July/August 2008: 1146-9.

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