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10 Alarming Headache Signs and Symptoms That You Mustn’t Ignore

Headaches are one of the most common health complaints that people experience at some point in their lives. They can affect anyone regardless of age and gender. However, there are some headache signs and symptoms that can help you prevent and treat headaches on time.

Before we discuss the headache signs and symptoms, let’s first explain the types of headaches!

There are three types of headache disorders, including:

  • Tension Headaches
    This is one of the most common types of headaches. They are characterized by constant pain and pressure around both sides of the head, the forehead, and the neck muscles.
  • Migraines
    Migraines are severe types of headaches that usually affect one side of the head. The pain is usually accompanied by sensitivity to light, smell, and sound as well as by vomiting, nausea and neck pain. Because of the increasing intensity, they can significantly reduce people’s routine activities.
  • Cluster Headaches
    They are another type of severe headaches that can recur over a period, which can appear several times a day and persist from weeks to months. The pain is usually limited to one side of the head, and it can significantly break people’s sleep.

The World Health Organization (WHO) claims that doctors and people severely underestimate, undermine, undertreat and even improperly diagnose headache signs and symptoms.

People usually consider a headache as a non-serious condition that can subside with time. However, a slightly harmless headache can seriously affect your overall health.

Headache Signs and Symptoms

The intensity and frequency of headaches vary from person to person, but there are some alarming headache signs and symptoms, that you mustn’t ignore, such as:

1. Disruptive First Headache and Vision Impairment

Among the headache signs and symptoms, one common is the temporal arteritis or giant cell arteritis (GCA). This is an inflammation of the arteries in your head, especially those in the temples.

If you have never experienced a headache, one particular symptom of GCA is a sudden pain that disrupts your daily routine.

In 2008, the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology published a study which pointed out visual and headache disturbances as the most frequent symptoms of GCA.

This headache is characterized by a persistent, throbbing pain that affects the upper neck area, the back of the head and behind the eyes.

Along the pain, you can also feel these areas tender, accompanied by a burning sensation. Even, you may feel the scalp tender upon contact with eyeglasses, comb or hat.

One of the predominant signs of this headache is a loss of vision and visual blurring. GCA is definitely something that must be treated otherwise it can lead to stroke and blindness.

2. Thunderclap Headache

As the name implies, this is a severe headache with a sudden onset. The pain can strike out of nowhere, intensify within 1 minute, persist for 1 hour and then subside.

In 2007, The Lancet published a study which stated that such a sudden headache is the primary symptom of subarachnoid hemorrhage.

This is a potentially fatal headache that swells the brain arteries which immediately rupture and bleed around the brain. This serious condition can cause a stroke.

Most of the subarachnoid hemorrhage patients claim that this is the worst headache they have ever experienced, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2010.

Other additional symptoms may include vomiting, nausea and mental confusion.

3. A Progressive Headache with One-Sided Weakness and Numbness

The arteries bring the blood from the heart to the brain. After the brain utilizes it for its basic functions, the venous sinuses or channels bring the blood back to the heart.

Sometimes, these venous channels get clogged, causing cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) a condition which can cause accumulation of blood and subsequent bleeding in and around the brain. This can be seen as one of the major causes that can lead to strokes.

So, such symptoms that can last for few days, a week or even more, can indicate CVT.

The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry has published a study in 2004 which found that this headache is the most common symptom of CVT.

Patients usually describe this headache as a sharp pain that usually affects one side of the head, and it is followed by vision and speech impairment as well as sensitivity to loud sounds and light.

Also, it is characterized by numbness and weakness on one side of the head that spreads down to the arms and shoulders.

4. A Headache With Face and Neck Pain

The four arteries that run along the sides of the neck and deliver blood from the heart to the head, face, ears and neck are called carotid arteries.

Sometimes, some of these arteries can suffer a tear, allowing the blood to fill the space between the layers of the arteries and separate them. This condition is called carotid artery dissection or CAD.

As the blood accumulates in these layers, it forms blood clots thus preventing the blood flow from the heart to the brain. So, this can cause a stroke.

The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association published a study in 2004 that claims that intense headaches with a sudden onset and a neck pain are the most typical symptoms of this headaches.

When you experience pain in the face and neck, this may be a symptom of oxygen deprivation that can bring about the development of CAD.

5. A Headache After Risky Sexual Behavior

Headaches are the primary symptoms of human immunodeficiency virus or HIV.

According to a study published in Pain in 2000, out of 131 participants with HIV, 45.8% reported tension-associated headaches, 16% migraines and 6.1% other types of headaches.

Primary headaches such as tension headaches and migraines may not indicate some underlying illness, or they can just point out an initial stage of HIV.

Secondary headaches such as sinus headaches or those related to some diseases, usually indicate the progressive stage of HIV.

6. A Headache With a Stiff Neck

If you experience a piercing pain in your head and excessively stiffed neck, you probably have meningitis.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain. Because of the closeness to the brain, it can be fatal.

According to a study in 2004, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, 95% of the patients with meningitis have a stiff neck, headache, mental disorientation and fever as primary symptoms.

7. A Headache After an Injury

If a head injury is followed by a headache within the first 10 days, you might have developed a concussion.

According to the study in the Journal of Neurotrauma, this is one of the most persistent symptoms of a brain injury.

Concussion disrupts the normal functioning of the brain after some kind of a blow. Although this is not a threatening condition, it can significantly affect the quality of proper functioning of one’s life.

Additional symptoms which are associated with this condition include memory, loss of consciousness, mental faculties and impaired vision.

Also, a concussion can form a blood clot in the brain thus triggering a severe headache that worsens over time.

8. A Headache After or During Intercourse

A headache connected with sexual intercourse is a current topic of medical discussion nowadays.

So, several types of sexual headaches are mentioned. People can suffer from a headache during the sexual intercourse while experiencing the peak excitement. Generally, this is not a cause for concern, but you should consult a doctor.

Another sexual headache can occur close to orgasm. It is a piercing pain with a sudden onset that can persist for a minute.

This headache can indicate a hemorrhage, tumor or stroke.

9. A Headache After Physical Activity

Jogging, walking, exercising, running, climbing, moving the head or bending down can sometimes be followed by a headache. This headache is usually a sign of dehydration.

So, make sure you pay attention to the water intake and your diet if you engage yourself in some physical activity.

According to a study published in Headache in 2004, most of the dehydrated people experienced intense headaches while walking, moving their heads or bending down.

Dehydration can also lead to vomiting, diarrhea, mental disorientation, and fever. If this condition is not treated on time, it can lead to fainting spells, high fever, and seizures.

10. First Headaches After Age 50

As people grow older, they become more prone to some serious disorders and diseases.

In case you experience the first headache after 50, make sure you seek medical help immediately.

This headache can hide giantcell arteritis, a brain tumor or some other types of tumor.

So, these headaches can indicate serious disorders that can be life threatening.

As we discussed so far, these headache signs and symptoms are essential when it comes to the early prevention of many health conditions that can be even fatal.