Headaches are one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor.
Many things can cause a headache
Most headaches aren't dangerous. but some are caused by a serious problem
Tension headaches Tension Headaches A tension headache is a particular kind of headache that feels like a band tightening around your head. Tension headaches are common and not dangerous The pain isn't usually severe Taking over-the-counter... read more and migraines Migraines A migraine isn't just a bad headache. A migraine is a particular kind of bad headache. The pain can be on one or both sides of your head. You may feel sick to your stomach, throw up,... read more are the two most common types of headaches
Problems with your sinuses, brain, or eyes may also cause a headache
Often, the doctor just needs to examine you, but sometimes you'll need tests such as a CT (computed tomography) scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more or a spinal tap Spinal Tap Spinal fluid is a liquid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. Spinal fluid helps cushion your brain if you hit your head or fall. Spinal fluid moves freely around your brain and spinal... read more
What causes a headache?
The most common causes of a headache are:
Other causes of a headache are:
An infection in your head, such as meningitis Bacterial Meningitis Meningitis is an infection of the thin layer of tissue that covers your brain and spinal cord. This layer of tissue is called the meninges. In bacterial meningitis, infection of the meninges... read more , encephalitis Encephalitis Encephalitis is inflammation of your brain, usually caused by an infection. Encephalitis can be caused by a virus directly infecting your brain or when a virus or a misguided immune reaction... read more , or sinusitis Sinusitis Your sinuses are hollow spaces behind your cheeks and forehead. Each sinus opens into your nose. Sinusitis is inflammation or an infection in one or more of your sinuses. Viruses, bacteria,... read more
Bodywide infections such as Lyme disease Lyme Disease Lyme disease is a certain disease you get from being bitten by infected ticks. It's called Lyme disease because it was first discovered in Lyme, Connecticut. Lyme disease is an infectious disease... read more , Rocky Mountain spotted fever Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a potentially fatal rickettsial infection that is transmitted by dog ticks and wood ticks. It causes a rash, headache, and high fever. People become infected... read more , or flu Influenza (Flu) Influenza, often called the flu, is a viral infection that affects your lungs and airways. Flu symptoms are a little bit like the common cold but are much more severe. Influenza, often called... read more
When should I see a doctor for a headache?
See a doctor right away if you have a headache and any of the following warning signs:
Changes in your vision, weakness, drowsiness, confusion, loss of balance, or trouble speaking
A fever and stiff neck
A sudden, very severe headache that came on like a thunderclap
Tenderness at your temple (as when combing hair) or jaw pain when chewing
Cancer, AIDS, or a weak immune system
A worsening headache
Red eyes and halos seen around lights
See a doctor within a week if you have:
Headaches that begin after age 50
Headaches that are getting worse or more frequent
If you are older than 50 years old, any new headache or change in old headache should be seen by a doctor. Older people are more likely to have a serious cause for a headache, and even common headaches may be more difficult to treat in older people.
What will happen at my doctor visit?
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and examine you. Your doctor may also do tests such as:
MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer creates a series of detailed pictures. Each picture looks like a slice taken... read more or CT (computed tomography) scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more of your head
How do doctors treat headaches?
Treatment depends on the type of headache you have:
If another health problem is causing your headache, doctors will treat that problem
For tension headaches or headaches due to viruses, doctors will have you take pain medicine such as aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen
For migraine, doctors will give you special medicine