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When to Call the Doctor About Your Migraines or Headaches

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    Any kind of pain is your body's way of warning you about an injury or illness. Although migraines and headaches are rarely the symptoms of a serious illness, occasionally they may indicate a serious medical condition such as a tumor or aneurysm (blood vessel rupture). It is important for you to become familiar with your personal headache symptoms, and those that require immediate medical attention.

    If you or a loved one has any of the following headache symptoms seek medical care immediately:

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    Understanding Headache -- Treatment

    Most headaches can be diagnosed by a medical history and physical exam. To rule out other causes of headaches such as an aneurysm, tumor, or structural abnormality, a doctor may call for vision tests, X-rays, a CT scan, MRI, a lumbar puncture, or an EEG.

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    • A sudden, new severe headache
    • A headache that is associated with neurological (nerve) symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance or falling, numbness or tingling, paralysis, speech difficulties, mental confusion, seizures, personality changes/inappropriate behavior, or vision changes (blurry vision, double vision, or blind spots)
    • Headache with a fever, shortness of breath, stiff neck, or rash
    • Headache pain that awakens you at night
    • Headaches with severe nausea and vomiting
    • Headaches that occur after a head injury or accident
    • Getting a new type of headache after age 55

    The following migraine or headache symptoms do not require urgent care, but you should contact your doctor if you, or your loved one, have any of these symptoms.

    • Have three or more headaches per week
    • Have headaches that keep getting worse and won't go away
    • Need to take a pain reliever every day or almost every day for your headaches
    • Need more than two to three doses of over-the-counter medications per week to relieve headache symptoms
    • Have headaches that are triggered by exertion, coughing, bending, or strenuous activity
    • Have a history of headaches, but have noticed a recent change in your headache symptoms

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on January 24, 2015
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