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Headaches? Know if you need a doctor
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Headaches? Know if you need a doctor

Headache usually do not warrant a visit to the hospital. However, it is best to consult a doctor if the pain is recurring and persistent
In most cases of headache, over-the-counter medicines or painkillers will bring relief.
Primary headaches — cluster headache, tension headaches, migraine and daily persistent headaches — are not caused by other medical conditions. Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K

We all have headaches. But did you know that there are at least 150 different kinds? Well, it is a fact established by medical science. They are one of the most common pain conditions in the world. According to various estimates, at least 75 per cent of adults across the globe have had a headache in the last year.

Celebrities like tennis player Serena Williams and Hollywood actor Ben Affleck also suffer from migraines, if that’s any consolation. They have spoken about their condition and the struggles associated with it.

A headache may hit you suddenly or it could develop gradually. Some headaches are of shorter period (less than an hour), thankfully, and some last longer (for several days). It’s a sharp pain, a throbbing sensation or a dull ache in any region of the head.

These 150 types of aches are divided into two categories: primary and secondary.

Primary headaches like cluster pain, tension headaches, migraine and new daily persistent headaches are not because of any other medical conditions. However, secondary headaches are caused by various medical conditions like disease of blood vessels in the brain, head injury, high blood pressure or hypertension, infection, medication overuse, sinus congestion, trauma and tumour.

Headaches: Hospital or no hospital?

The question is how to deal with them. Do you need to see a doctor and get immediate professional help? Or can it be self-treated?

Well, it depends on your conditions. Often, you don’t need to rush to a hospital if you have a headache. Over-the-counter medicines do bring relief. Similarly, positive lifestyle changes — keeping yourself hydrated, daily exercise and a healthy diet — have been proven to reduce the rate and frequency of headaches.

However, headaches are never simple. If the pain is recurring and persistent, it is always advisable to check with a doctor.

When do you need medical help

As per experts, here is a list of symptoms that need immediate medical attention:

  • A new, sudden and severe pain
  • A headache associated with neurological symptoms like weakness, dizziness, sudden loss of balance or falling, numbness or tingling, paralysis, speech difficulties, mental confusion, seizures, personality changes/inappropriate behaviour, or vision changes (blurry vision, double vision, or blind spots)
  • A headache with a fever, shortness of breath, stiff neck, or rash
  • A headache that does not let you sleep at night
  • A headache accompanied by nausea and vomiting
  • Pain after a head injury or an accident
  • Getting headaches after 55

Symptoms to watch out for

Experts suggest that you need to see a doctor or a specialist if you have the following symptoms:

  • Frequent pain — three or more a week
  • With debilitating pain
  • Headaches that refuse to end
  • When you need to take painkillers every day for headaches
  • When painkillers are the only way to get relief from headaches
  • If you get headaches because of exertion, coughing, bending, or strenuous activity
  • When your pain symptoms change suddenly

No time to waste

These three specific situations also need urgent medical attention:

  • Pregnant women who develop a sudden severe headache
  • People who are immunocompromised (for example, someone living with HIV or on strong immune-suppressing medications)
  • If a person got COVID-19 vaccine in the last four to 42 days and experiences constant headache
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