Headaches: When Should You Worry?

Nearly everyone has experienced headaches at one point in their lives or another. Mild headaches can easily be relieved by over-the-counter pain relievers, a short rest, trigger point therapy, or maybe some coffee.

However, for headaches that are severe and unusual, seeking headache treatment is recommended as it can be a sign of tumour, blood clot, or stroke. While similar problems are rare, it is still important that you know when to seek immediate care and how to control those headaches that are not life-threatening.

What should you worry?

Many headaches can be taken care of by yourself and your chiropractor. However, some headaches will require immediate medical care. You should worry about headaches when:

  • They develop after age 50
  • They are unusually severe
  • Head pain increases when you move or cough
  • They get worse steadily
  • They cause changes in your mental function or personality
  • They are accompanied by a very painful red eye
  • They are accompanied by tenderness and pain in the temples
  • They appear after a blow to the head
  • They hinder you from performing your normal day-to-day activities
  • They come abruptly
  • You have an impaired immune system or cancer

You also need to worry about headaches when they are accompanied by any of the following:

  • Confusion
  • Decreased memory or alertness
  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Numbness

What are the different types of headaches?

While only 10 percent of headaches have a known cause, there are over 300 types of headaches. Headaches with no known cause are called primary headaches. Below is a rundown of the most common primary headaches.

Tension headaches

About 3 out of every 4 adults experience this type of headache. Tension headaches are also considered the most common out of all the headaches. In most cases, they don’t occur frequently and are often mild to moderate in terms of severity. Very few people get tension headaches that are severe.

Typically, tension headaches produce a dull and squeezing pain on both sides of the head. Those who experience strong tension headaches may feel like their head is in a vise. Some people will also experience pain in their neck and shoulders.

Some tension headaches are caused by emotional stress, fatigue, and other problems involving the joints or muscles of the jaw or neck. Most tension headaches can last from 20 minutes to 2 hours.


Migraines occur less frequently than tension headaches. However, they are often much more severe. Migraines are more common in women than in men. A Harvard study reported that having migraines boosts the risk of heart attacks by as much as 42 percent.

Many neurologists believe that migraines are caused by nerve cell activity and changes in the brain’s blood flow. Genetics also play a role when it comes to migraines as a staggering 70 percent of those who suffer from migraines have at least 1 relative suffering from the same condition.

Cluster Headaches

This type of headache is rare but is often very severe. Cluster headaches have been known to occur 5 times more in men than in women. While anyone can get cluster headaches, the typical people who get them are middle-aged men with a smoking history.

As the name implies, this type of headache tends to come in clusters, with 1 to 8 headaches occurring in a day over a period of 1 to 3 months. The pain is always very severe and strikes one side of the head.

Cluster headache attacks often start abruptly and can last for 30 minutes to an hour. Most sufferers become agitated and restless during the attack. Sensitivity to light and sound as well as nausea may also occur.

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