Headaches are so common that we don’t really stop to think about how serious they or what their sources could be.  We often just think to ourselves that some ibuprofen, a heating pad, or a nap can take away the pain, but where is that pain coming from?  Is it caused by a more serious health problem?

For others, headaches and their accompanying side effects and symptoms can’t be easily so ignored.  Chronic headaches and migraines can be incapacitating, making it impossible for the sufferer to go about his or her daily activities during the onset and duration of their pain.

Chronic daily headaches are classified as such based upon how often they occur.  If a headache sufferer has headaches occurring 15 or more days a month, they are sufferers of chronic daily headaches.  While chronic headaches and their symptoms vary, they fall under the categories of chronic tension-type headaches, medication overuse/rebound headaches, and chronic migraines, and are often characterized by the following general symptoms/side effects:

  • Chronic tension-type headaches: tightness and pressure on both sides of the head
  • Medication overuse/rebound headaches: mild/moderate intensity; worsens during drug overuse
  • Chronic migraines: migraines are often felt on one side of the head/body and the pain is often accompanied by other side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.

It’s important for headache sufferers to monitor their headache pain, no matter where they fall on the pain spectrum.  Headaches are really an inevitable part of life, but knowing how severe and long-lasting your headaches normally are can help you be more aware of any significant changes that can indicate more serious health issues.

So how do you know when to seek help for a headache?  When does something of “normal” pain become something of concern?  Thankfully, the American Headache Society has published a helpful device of distinctions in chronic headaches and side effects that would encourage a sufferer to seek medical treatment.  Remember to S.N.O.O.P.:

SNOOP for Chronic Headaches

Systemic symptoms (or secondary risk factors): when the fever is accompanied by symptoms in other parts of the body, like fever or weight loss, or if the headache occurs in a patient with a secondary risk such as HIV or a systemic cancer, contact a doctor

Neurologic symptoms: deficiencies in general alertness, like confusion, blurred vision, loss of consciousness, and changes in personality are all negative and serious side effects of chronic headaches and the sufferer should contact a doctor immediately

Onset: sudden, abrupt, or split-second headaches that occur without warning can be serious, and can occur when more serious issues like bleeding in the brain cause the headaches

Older: aging patients (50+) who have new onset or progressive headaches should contact a doctor, as their risk of giant cell arteritis or a brain tumor is higher

Progression: negative changes in the pain, frequency, and duration of headaches could signal more serious underlying health issues

If you feel as if any headaches that you experience are debilitating or more painful/severe than a normal more “common” headache would be, contact us at the Migraine Institute to discuss your specific pain, symptoms, and side effects.

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