When Your Headaches Are a Sign of Something More Serious

Jul 05, 2023
When Your Headaches Are a Sign of Something More Serious
Everyone has a headache once in a while due to a viral infection or stress. Some people even experience chronic tension headaches or migraines. But if you have severe headache pain with no clear explanation, it could indicate a serious problem.

Nearly everyone experiences a headache on occasion. But when the headaches seem chronic, sudden, or especially severe, you may be concerned that it’s something more serious.

The skilled physicians at Alabama Neurological Surgery & Spine in Birmingham, Alabama, offer the following considerations when you’re evaluating your headache pain. If you’re worried that your headache is possibly the sign of a serious health problem, give our office a call today.

Causes of headaches

You may have head pain due to simple, correctable issues like dehydration or hunger. Caffeine withdrawal or a night of overindulging on wine or other spirits could also be to blame. Poor sleep, stress, and viral infections, sinus conditions, or allergies are other possible reasons for your headache. Certain head pain can also indicate something more serious.

Types of headaches

There are more than 150 types of headaches. Some people experience regular headaches. These usually fall into one of these common categories:


Migraine is intense head pain that’s really a neurological condition. Migraines may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances, and sensitivity to light and sound. 

Migraines usually affect just one side of your head and can be brought on by triggers in your diet, dehydration, fatigue, stress, or sensory factors like odd smells or flashing lights. Your migraine symptoms can be debilitating and recurring, and they interfere with your quality of life. 

Medications, Botox® injections, and lifestyle changes can help you find relief from migraines.

Tension headaches

The most common type of headache, tension headaches affect both sides of your head and cause moderate pain.It’s possible to experience tension headaches regularly — even every day. Over-the-counter medications usually offer relief. 

Cluster headache

Cluster headaches most often strike just one side of your head, behind your eye. They can occur multiple times a day and at clustered periods of time. Prescription medications can help ease discomfort associated with cluster headaches.

When to be concerned about headaches

If you have a sudden increase in the frequency of your headaches or they’re more severe, it’s time to schedule an appointment to make sure they’re not a sign of a serious problem. 

Headaches associated with other neurological symptoms require evaluation, too. Slurred speech, a change in vision, and loss of balance are examples of concerning neurological symptoms.

You should also seek evaluation if you experience what seems like the most severe headache of your life; it may be explosive or violent. Be concerned if you develop a headache right after weightlifting, cardiovascular activity, or sex. 

Headaches that worsen over 24 hours or that are accompanied by a stiff neck, nausea, or fever are of concern. Any headache that’s associated with a head injury is also worrisome. 

We also recommend you see us if:

  • Your headache lasts more than a day or two
  • Your headaches interfere with sleep
  • Your headaches are worse in the morning
  • You have a history of headaches, but their pattern or intensity has changed

Headaches can also be caused when spinal fluid leaks out of the membrane that covers your spinal cord. Compression in the cervical vertebra (the bones in your neck) may also be a cause of headaches. 

Even if your daily or painful headaches aren’t the sign of a serious medical condition, they deserve investigation and treatment if they interfere with your quality of life. 

The team at Alabama Neurological Surgery and Spine is ready to see you if you have any concerning headache symptoms. Call our office, or use this website to request an appointment.