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When to Seek Help for a Headache or Migraine

June 10, 2021
Woman suffering from headache massages temples

Headaches and migraines are always unpleasant, causing pain that keeps us from work, school, family occasions, and more. It is normal to experience these episodes from time to time, but some headaches cannot be ignored. Richmond University Medical Center would like to help patients understand when a headache requires medical attention.

Know Your Headache

Headaches come in many variations, each with unique symptoms and causes. Three common types account for most patients’ headaches, however, and knowing the variations can make it easier to talk to your physician and seek headache or migraine help. These include:

Tension Headaches

The most common type, tension headaches cause pain on both sides of the head that can extend to the back of the head or neck. These headaches are usually caused by stress, muscle tension, or environmental factors.

Cluster Headaches

These headaches are the most severe, occurring in groups over a period of hours or days. They are characterized by intense pain behind the eye and can be triggered by certain foods containing nitrates, smoking, excessive heat, bright light, or drinking alcohol.


Defined by throbbing, intense pain, migraines can be debilitating. Migraine sufferers often experience light sensitivity, nausea, and vomiting alongside pain. The exact cause of migraines is not known, but physicians believe they may be genetic.

Signs You Should See a Physician for Headache Care

Usually, even very uncomfortable headaches are not cause for alarm. Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, rest, drinking plenty of water, regular exercise, and mindfulness practices such as yoga can all help prevent and resolve these episodes. Still, patients who experience chronic headaches or migraines can benefit from a care plan tailored to their needs.

You should consult with a physician if headaches:

  • Grow more painful or frequent than usual
  • Persist without significant periods of relief
  • Worsen with time
  • Require you to take OTC pain relievers more than twice per week and/or do not respond to suggested doses of OTC medications
  • Interfere with work, study, family, and hobbies
  • Develop characteristics and accompanying symptoms that change over time
  • Begin after a concussion, head trauma, or another physical injury, especially ongoing headaches
  • Are caused by exercise, bending at the waist, coughing and/or sneezing, or sexual intercourse

If you currently receive treatment for headaches, see your physician any time new symptoms occur. Finally, if headaches cause worry, speaking with a physician can offer peace of mind.

When to Immediately Seek Help for Headaches

In the situations noted above, making an appointment with your primary care physician is the best route to resolving headaches and migraines. In other cases, treatment cannot wait, and you should be seen by a medical professional as soon as possible.

If you experience any of the following with a headache, call 9-1-1 or visit Richmond University Medical Center’s emergency department immediately:

  • Loss of consciousness/fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Uncontrollable vomiting or diarrhea
  • Unrelenting pain for 72 hours or more without periods of respite that last at least four hours
  • Fever above 102 degrees
  • Difficulty speaking, such as slurred speech
  • Difficulty walking
  • Confusion
  • Numbness, weakness, or paralysis on one side of the body
  • Vision loss
  • Stiff neck

You should also seek medical treatment for any headache-related symptoms that cause you alarm. Trust your gut – a visit to emergency services could be lifesaving should your symptoms be due to stroke and can help rule out dangerous conditions such as encephalitis, aneurysms, and meningitis.

Find Relief from Headaches

If you cope with frequent or severe headaches, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to identify the causes and determine a treatment plan. For more information about headache and migraine help in Staten Island, New York, contact Richmond University Medical Center today.