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Could My Headache Something More Serious?

How do I know if I have migraines or tension headaches?

Migraines tend to be throbbing, intense headaches that typically last four to 72 hours. The pain is usually more on one side of the head, such as over the forehead, behind one eye or over the temple. The pain is often aggravated with head movements. When experiencing a migraine, many people lie down in a quiet, dark room since light, sound, and smell sensitivity are common. Nausea and vomiting can occur during a migraine. Before or during the migraine, many people have visual changes, such as seeing flickering lights or zigzag lines, called an aura.

Tension-type headaches generally affect both sides of the head. The pain is usually described as more of a tightness or pressure than throbbing or pulsating. These headaches can last 30 minutes to seven days.  Head movements do not aggravate the pain. Light, sensitivity, sound sensitivity and nausea usually do not occur.

Could my headache be a symptom of something serious?

Yes. Definitely seek medical attention immediately if you develop a really severe headache, especially without a previous history of headaches. Sudden onset of the worst headache of your life could be from an aneurysm rupture in the brain, which requires emergency room attention. Bleeding in the brain can often cause symptoms, such as weakness, numbness, and speaking difficulties.

The vast majority of headaches are not serious. However, new headaches or a change in headache pattern need prompt medical evaluation. Worsening headaches, especially every morning, with daily vomiting could be due to a brain tumor. People over 60 years old with daily pain over their temple, plus jaw or muscle pain, could have a condition called temporal arteritis, which can lead to visual loss.

Barry Singer, MD, is a board-certified neurologist on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. He received his medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. He completed his neurology residency at Cornell University-New York Hospital and a neuroimmunology fellowship at the National Institutes of Health.

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