When to See a Doctor for Your Headaches

More than 45 million Americans suffer from recurring headaches. How do you know when to see a doctor about your headaches? If you experience debilitating headaches on a regular basis, if your headaches are interfering with your daily life, or if the recommended dose of over-the-counter pain relievers no longer does the trick, you should schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible:

  • An intense, severe headache that comes on quickly, without warning, especially if you are normally headache-free.
  • Sudden, severe headache if you suffer from kidney problems, heart disease or high blood pressure.
  • A headache following a head injury, especially if the headache includes feelings of nausea, dizziness, or blurred vision.
  • A headache accompanied by seizures.
  • A headache accompanied by memory loss, confusion, loss of balance, slurred speech or vision, or numbness in arms or legs.

A common fear is that the sudden onset of serious headaches may be the sign of a brain tumor. Headache is rarely the first sign of a brain tumor. A headache accompanied by seizures, change in mental function and vomiting could signal a neurological disorder such as a brain tumor, so seek medical attention immediately following such episodes.

Before You See a Doctor

When it is time to seek non-urgent help, take the following steps to prepare for a visit with the doctor. By educating yourself on various types of headaches, symptoms and treatment, and by being prepared for healthcare professionals' questions, you'll get the most out of an initial evaluation.

Keep a headache diary (right) over the preceding weeks, which will help your doctor diagnose your headache and prescribe appropriate treatment. Spend some time tracking your individual headache triggers, and track your headaches in a diary. These tools, along with a list of medications, will help your doctor in diagnosing your headaches.