When is a headache more than a headache?

Archive, July, Month

At what point should a doctor evaluate headaches?

Everyone gets headaches.

They can range, perhaps starting as a dull pain before escalating to the squeezing, dizzying feeling, and start from a number of causes: a lack of/poor quality sleep, certain foods, alcohol consumption, stress, eye straining, dehydration/lack of food, among others.

In many cases, a drugstore pain reliever or headache medicine will resolve the symptoms relatively quickly.

There does reach a point, though, that consistent headaches — especially those that are particularly severe — should be evaluated by a doctor.

“If you start to notice any changes with your memory or brain, it’s time to speak to your primary care provider to seek answers about your neurological health,” said Dr. Blerta Gaqi, a family medicine physician with McLaren Oakland.

When to see a doctor for your headaches

Start with a primary care provider, either a family doctor or internist, but the time has come to make an appointment for headaches when certain conditions also exist.
  • Five or more days each month you’re taking medication for a headache.
  • Headaches keep you from continuing tasks, and you have to stop, lay down and rest.
  • If your headaches cause additional symptoms, such as:
    -Light and noise sensitivity
    -Weakness
    -Numbness/Tingling sensation
    -Nausea/Vomiting
    -Head pain increases when straining
    -Changes in eyesight

Prepping for an appointment

When seeing a primary care provider for headaches, he or she will make the determination to refer their patient to a neurologist for further evaluation and/or specialized care.

The best thing patients can do is provide their primary care doctor with as much information regarding their headaches as they can to help the doctor determine what the next course of action will be, if any.

  • Family history, especially migraine history
  • A calendar of your past headaches (time of day they started and how long they lasted)
  • Symptoms associated with the headaches
  • Medications taken for headache, how often and how much

Physicians can order imaging procedure and offer medications or additional referrals to specialized physicians to treat certain cases.