Headaches are extremely common. Almost everyone has experienced a severe headache at least once in their lifetime. In most cases, headaches are minor nuisances that resolve within a short time. However, a headache can on rare occasions be the warning sign of a potentially serious pathology that requires immediate medical attention.

Potentially serious disorders that can produce headache pain include brain tumors, stroke, and inflammation of the temporal arteries. There are often subtle signs that accompany headaches associated with these conditions that can help people recognize that something more serious is causing their pain.

If you experience any of the following symptoms with your headache, seek immediate medical attention:
  • The sudden onset of severe headache that is more intense than any headache you have ever had in the past.
  • Headache that is accompanied by blurred vision, double vision, trouble swallowing or speaking, or severe dizziness.
  • Headache that is accompanied by numbness, tingling, weakness or clumsiness in the arms or legs.
  • Headache that is worsened with lying down.
  • In older adults, headache in the temple area that is accompanied by a feeling of pulsations in that area.
  • Headache that is accompanied by confusion, disorientation or loss of consciousness.
  • Headache that is accompanied by fever.
  • Headache that is accompanied by a severe stiff neck.
  • Headache that is accompanied by persistent or unexplained vomiting.
  • Severe headache in someone over age 50 who does not normally suffer from headaches.