While headaches often appear to come out of nowhere, some headaches descend incredibly fast, striking like a clap of thunder. While they may soon pass as most headaches do, this mysterious and sudden occurrence could be a sign of something much more serious than a headache. If your headache causes nearly blinding pain, it could be a sign of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).
Strokes happen when a blood clot or piece of plaque in the body's veins or arteries breaks loose and travels through the body, eventually making its way to the brain. When this happens, the clot may temporarily or partially block an artery, resulting in a TIA, or it may fully block the blood flow, causing a stroke.
In addition to a sudden headache, other signs of TIA and stroke involve neurological or cognitive difficulties, such as trouble speaking or walking. In fact, people may suddenly fall while standing or walking. In the case of TIA -- often referred to as a "mini-stroke" -- the symptoms include dizziness, temporary visual problems or simply trouble holding a pen.
Either way, get immediate medical attention. Strokes call for clot-busting drugs to restore blood flow to brain tissue, and TIA episodes are often followed at some point by a real stroke. Pain is your body's way of telling you something's not right, so give your doctor a chance to discover what's wrong before it's too late.