GP shares five warning signs your headache could be serious

Most headaches go away on their own and aren’t a sign of something more serious. It’s normal for them to last between 30 minutes and several hours.

Drinking plenty of water, resting, and taking paracetamol or ibuprofen can usually get rid of a headache.

But Dr Johannes Uys, a General Practitioner (GP) working at Broadgate General Practice in London, listed five warning signs your headache could be caused by something more serious. 

  • Sudden, severe headaches
  • Thunderclap headache where the peak of the headache is reached within seconds or minutes – this might be a sign of a haemorrhage
  • A headache after injury
  • A headache with a fever
  • Headache along with neck stiffness

Dr Uys advised: “If you have one or more of the warning signs above, you should see a GP. Other reasons to see a GP would be if your headaches are worsening, if you’re pregnant, or if the headaches are occurring in a child.”

Headaches can occur in different parts of the head, and their location could signal the cause, according to Dr Deborah Lee, Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.

Headache with pain at the back of the head

A headache in the back of the head – the occipital region – is most likely due to occipital neuralgia, caused when a nerve in the cervical region is pinched as it exits the spinal column, said Dr Lee.

But she added: “An occipital headache can also be caused by a leak of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This is a serious medical condition that requires a neurosurgical opinion.”

Front of the head

Tension headache, eye strain or sinusitis most commonly cause pain at the front of the head over the frontal lobe region, said Dr Lee.

She added: “Tension headaches and eye strain are treated with rest and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Sinusitis is treated with antibiotics and nasal sprays.”

Side of the head

A sudden headache affecting one side of the head may be due to migraine or cluster headache, said Dr Lee.

She advised: “Migraine is a common, severe and debilitating condition, and typically affects one side of the head. Cluster headache also tends to do this. However, it is rare, affecting 0.1 percent of the population.

“The cause is unknown but is thought to be a disturbance in Circadian rhythms, which somehow results in vasodilation of cerebral blood vessels.”

The NHS recommends you see your GP in the following circumstances:

  • Your headache keeps coming back
  • Painkillers do not help and your headache gets worse
  • You have a bad throbbing pain at the front or side of your head – it could be a migraine or, more rarely, a cluster headache
  • You feel sick, vomit and find light or noise painful

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