Headache

Is this your symptom?

  • Pain or discomfort of the scalp or forehead
  • Pain is not in the face or ears

Some Basics...

  • Almost everybody has had a headache at some point in their lives. Headache is a very common symptom.
  • Headaches can vary from mild to severe. The pain can feel sharp, dull, throbbing, or aching. The type, severity, and location of the pain depend on the cause of the headache.
  • Most headaches do not have a serious cause. The most common causes are muscle tension headache, migraine headache, and sinus infection.
  • Simple treatment will often help people with headaches feel better.

Common Causes

During the course of any year, most adults will get a headache. There are many common causes.

  • Muscle Tension Headaches: Most headaches are caused by muscle tension. The tension may also be felt in the neck and shoulders. These headaches are made worse by emotional stress.
  • Migraine Headaches: Also called vascular headaches. The headache is moderate to severe. It is described as throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of the head. People may also vomit or have an upset stomach. Some people will have visual warning signs before they get these headaches.
  • Sinusitis: Sinusitis can cause headaches. The headache is most often felt in the forehead. The nose may also be runny and stuffy from the sinus infection.
  • Fever: People with fever will often get a mild to moderate headache. Fever may be from the flu or common cold. A severe headache that lasts after the fever may have a more serious cause.
  • Caffeine Withdrawal Headache: This happens to people who usually drink large amounts of caffeine, and then suddenly stop. They can get a headache from not having caffeine. Some caffeine drinkers even get headaches after waking up. These usually go away after their first cup of coffee or tea.

Some Serious Causes of Headache

  • Stroke ("Brain Attack")
  • Meningitis, encephalitis
  • Temporal arteritis
  • Brain tumor
  • Being exposed to carbon monoxide

Pain Scale

  • None: No pain. Pain score is 0 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Mild: The pain does not keep you from work, school, or other normal activities. Pain score is 1-3 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Moderate: The pain keeps you from working or going to school. It wakes you up from sleep. Pain score is 4-7 on a scale of 0 to 10.
  • Severe: The pain is very bad. It may be worse than any pain you have had before. It keeps you from doing any normal activities. Pain score is 8-10 on a scale of 0 to 10.

When to Call for Headache

Call 911 Now

  • Trouble waking up or acting confused
  • New weakness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
  • New numbness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
  • Start to slur speech or have trouble speaking
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Fever over 103° F (39.4° C)
  • Fever over 100.4° F (38.0° C) and over 60 years old
  • Fever and have diabetes
  • Fever and have a weak immune system from:
    • HIV
    • Cancer chemo
    • Long-term steroid use
    • Splenectomy
  • Fever and are bedridden (nursing home patient, stroke, chronic illness, or recovering from surgery)
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Sinus pain of forehead with a runny or stuffy nose
  • New headache and over 50 years old
  • New headache and weak immune system (HIV, cancer chemo, long-term steroid use, splenectomy)
  • Fever lasts more than 3 days
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Headache lasts more than 24 hours
  • Headaches off and on for weeks or months (are frequent, come and go)
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Mild to moderate headache
  • Had a migraine headache like this before
  • Had a muscle tension headache like this before

Care Advice for Headache

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Headaches can vary from mild to severe. The pain can feel sharp, dull, throbbing, or aching. The type, severity, and location of the pain depend on the cause of the headache.
    • Most headaches do not have a serious cause.
    • You can treat most headaches at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Migraine Headache:
    • This type of headache is called a vascular headache. It can be mildly to severely painful. People who get migraines often describe them as throbbing or pulsing. A migraine headache is often felt on just one side of the head.
    • You may also vomit or have an upset stomach. Some people will have visual warning signs before they get migraines.
  3. Muscle Tension Headache:
    • Most headaches are caused by muscle tension.
    • People say the headache feels like a tight band around their head. You may feel tension down into your neck and shoulders. These headaches can be made worse by emotional stress.
    • These headaches are painful. There are pain medications you can take to help the pain.
  4. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  5. Migraine Medication: Take your prescription migraine medicine as soon as it starts.
  6. Rest: Lie down in a dark, quiet place and try to relax. Close your eyes and try to relax your whole body.
  7. Cold Pack: For pain, put a cold pack or cold wet washcloth on your forehead for 20 minutes.
  8. Stretching: Stretch and massage any tight neck muscles.
  9. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Headache lasts more than 24 hours
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 10/18/2017 1:25:58 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:07 PM

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