7 Headache Symptoms you definitely shouldn’t ignore

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How do you know if your headaches are from migraines, or something life threatening, like stroke or meningitis?  Learn the warning signs of emergency headaches- When to Call 911, and when to just Chill…

7 Headache Symptoms you definitely shouldn’t ignore

Migraine headaches can be debilitating, frightening, and traumatic, but they don’t usually signal a life-threatening emergency.  Still, there are times when head pain, accompanied by other symptoms, could translate into a potentially dangerous health risk. It’s important to be able to recognize warning signs that could indicate stroke, brain damage, or heart disease, among other headache emergencies.

Below are 7 types of headaches that may require emergency intervention:


Explosive headaches- Also called thunderclap headaches; severe head pain appears abruptly, and quickly escalates into a debilitating headache.  Call 911, because a thunderclap headache could indicate stroke, brain aneurism, or meningitis.

New, unusual headache- Any headache symptoms that are unfamiliar to you should be reported to your physician immediately, especially if they accompany other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, dizziness, or pain that is exacerbated by sudden movement, coughing, or sneezing.

Slow, progressive headache- Headaches that build up over several weeks could signal a severe brain injury, such as a tumor.  Signs such as neurological damage (speech slurring, visual distortions, partial paralysis, and hearing loss), seizures, or sudden, uncharacteristically disturbing behavior should be mentioned to a doctor.

Post-workout headache- A high correlation exists between physical activity and subarachnoid hemorrhage.  If you experience a sudden, excruciating headache while exercising, alert 911 right away.


Headaches with neck pain- Stiff neck pain sometimes causes headaches, but it can also signal a life-threatening illness, such as meningitis.  Rule it out by calling your doctor, and tell him if you have recently had a fever or a bacterial infection.

Consistent headache- If you have a headache that won’t go away and you also have a fever, temple pain, and visual disorders, contact 911; it could suggest an arterial damage.

Hypnic headache- If you have a headache immediately upon waking, then notify a neurologist or other headache specialist.  While it might not indicate anything life threatening, it most likely warrants an MRI.

Related reading:

“What are Ice Pick Headaches, and should I be worried?”

Prevent Suffering a Stroke- Follow these 5 Simple Rules

To ER or not to ER? 8 Migraine Signals that call for Emergency Care


6 Head Pains You Should Never Ignore

Physical activity and subarachnoid haemorrhage: a population based case-control study

Severe Headache Emergency – Symptoms of a Severe Headache – RealAge

Headache: When not to ignore it

How To Rule out Meningitis as a Cause of a Stiff Neck