Brain Health

When Should You See a Doctor About Your Headache?

Originally published June 28, 2017

Last reviewed September 28, 2022

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s been days and what you thought was a regular tension headache hasn’t gone away. Is it time to go to the doctor?

Whether it’s a random headache that won’t go away or one that appears like clockwork the week before you have your menstrual cycle, headache pain can range from mild to so severe you can’t get out of bed. Here’s how to know when it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor to get your headaches checked out.

Seek out medical attention immediately if your headache is extremely painful and if it comes on suddenly and severely, which may be a sign of an aneurysm.

“The classic presentation of an aneurysm is the worst headache of your life,” says Jonathan J. Russin, MD, a neurosurgeon at Keck Medicine of USC and assistant professor of clinical neurological surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “They call it a ‘thunder clap’ headache.”

You should also see a doctor when you have a headache and one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Stiff neck
  • Fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • Weak, numb or paralyzed on one side of your body
  • Trouble seeing, speaking or walking
  • Nausea and vomiting (and you don’t have another condition like the flu)
  • Confusion
  • Fainting

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s possible your headache is the result of a stroke or meningitis. Both are life-threatening and require immediate medical treatment.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if:

  • Your headache gets worse or doesn’t improve with an over-the-counter pain medication
  • Your headache prevents you from working, sleeping or going about your daily activities
  • Your headaches start occurring more often than usual or are more painful and intense than usual
  • You would like to learn more about different treatment options

If your headaches are mild and infrequent, it’s OK to wait and bring it up at your next annual check up. In general, it’s important to speak with your doctor about your headaches if you’re experiencing them regularly.

Headaches are caused by a number of reasons, ranging from seasonal allergies to dehydration to stress to vitamin deficiencies. Once you and your doctor have identified the cause, you can begin finding the most appropriate and beneficial treatment options and/or lifestyle changes.

Topics

aneurysm
brain aneurysm
chronic headaches
Dr. Jonathan J. Russin
headaches
Anne Fritz
Anne Fritz is a freelance health and lifestyle writer.