Most of us will suffer the occasional headache – and occasional headaches are no real cause for concern. Rest, fluids and some over the counter pain relief usually sees them off, and the cause is usually simple to identify.
But when you are suffering regular headaches, or the kind or severity of the headache changes without any obvious reason, it’s wise to visit a medical provider for some advice, and possibly for investigations and treatment.
There are a number of general practitioners who are more than capable of helping with occasional headaches – but if your symptoms are regular or severe, or if treatment hasn’t helped, it might be time to see a neurologist who specializes in investigating and treating headaches – and who can tell the difference between a tension headache and a migraine.
But what are the signs that your headaches might be more than just a mild irritation, and when should you see a neurologist?
As a rule of thumb no headache should interrupt your usual routine significantly, and most people don’t suffer from headaches on a scale that would. You should visit your neurologist about your headaches if:
- Your headaches occur more than twice a week.
- Your headaches began after a head injury.
- Your headaches interrupt your usual routine.
- Your headaches are accompanied by nausea, dizziness, loss of consciousness or confusion.
- Your headaches are associated with weakness in your limbs, slurred speech or blurred vision.
- You are over 50 and experiencing new or chronic forms of headache.
- Over the counter or prescription medications don’t improve the symptoms.
- Your headache is sudden, severe and accompanied by stiff neck and/or fever.
- Your headaches get worse over time, even with treatment.
- You have a history of cancer or HIV/AIDS and are experiencing new kinds of headache.
There are many reasons that you might be suffering these headaches, and most are simple to treat, but diagnosing the cause might mean some trial and error and some tests and investigations.
These tests and investigations may involve CT or MRI scans, Electroencephalograms, blood tests, ECG and spinal fluid tests. Evaluations usually begin with a physical examination, questions about family history and lifestyle, and tracking diet and environmental factors that may impact your headaches. Keeping a migraine diary is an important step on the road to recovery and prevention, and it may even be that tracking these triggers shows a pattern of foods or times in your menstrual cycle that always align with your migraine attacks – meaning that you are able to take proactive steps to prevent your attacks or to reduce the severity without invasive tests.