"Decoding Headaches: How to Identify Signs of a Dangerous Headache"


Headaches cause discomfort in the head, scalp or neck. They can be classified into two main groups: primary headaches, which originate from hyperactivity or dysfunction of pain-sensitive structures in the head, including tension headaches, migraine and cluster headaches. On the other hand, there are secondary headaches that appear as symptoms or consequences of underlying diseases such as tumors, infections (for example, a mild headache due to a cold, flu or other viral diseases), aneurysms, dehydration, hypertension, among others.

Almost everyone has experienced headaches from time to time, and although they can be uncomfortable, painful and even debilitating, the majority of headaches are not caused by serious health problems or conditions. However, it is important to keep in mind that sometimes a headache can be a sign that something is wrong. About 10 percent of headaches are indicative of a serious health condition and require immediate medical evaluation.

If you experience regular and recurring headaches for at least 15 days every month, you are likely dealing with what is known as a chronic daily headache. Rather than a specific type of headache, chronic headaches include a variety of subtypes. Due to their persistent nature and prolonged duration, they are considered one of the most debilitating forms of headache conditions.

It is advisable to consult your doctor if you experience the following regarding your headache condition: if it occurs once or twice a week, if it develops suddenly with maximum pain within five minutes, if you rely on medication daily for relief, if the headache pattern changes or worsens, and if it is sudden and severe. Additionally, seek medical attention if the headache  is accompanied by fever, neck stiffness, numbness or weakness in the arms and legs, disorientation, seizures, double vision, slurred speech or other neurological symptoms; and if the pain radiates down the neck.


Most types of headaches activate the same pain receptors, making it challenging to determine if a headache is a sign of a serious condition. However, there are more complex causes that can be identified, including: a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds; a transient ischemic attack or mini-stroke, which presents with less severe symptoms; an aneurysm, characterized by a bulging or swollen blood vessel in the brain; meningitis, an infection causing inflammation in the protective lining of the brain; or a primary brain tumor, which originates in the brain and may or may not be cancerous.

Keep in mind that depending on your symptoms, a CT scan, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or lumbar puncture may be necessary to investigate the underlying cause of your pain. It is important to note that even with further testing, a specific cause may not always be identified. Your medical history is a vital tool for doctors in diagnosing headaches accurately. Your primary care physician may refer you to another specialist, such as a neurologist or otolaryngologist, if your situation appears to be complex.

If headaches are significantly interfering with your life, it is important to prioritize your health. Consult with a doctor, to develop a management plan for your headaches and avoid waiting until emergency situations arise. For chronic pain, aggressive initial treatment and long-term management, can help reduce the duration and persistence of the condition.

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