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Top 4 Types of Headaches That Signal a Dangerous Problem

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Ordinary headaches are part of the normal human experience. However, a headache that is severe, persistent or associated with other symptoms such as vomiting and confusion is a warning signal to a dangerous problem.

“Worst Headache of Your Life”

Pain in the head or upper neck is one of common locations of pain in the body and is attributed to many causes. The “worst headache of your life” is a term found in medical textbooks to describe the pain associated with a subarachnoid hemorrhage caused by a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. The headache occurs while the person is lying still and is associated with a stiff neck, difficulty tolerating light in a room, vomiting and confusion. Usually the first headache is a warning sign. The initial subarachnoid hemorrhage is not fatal. If immediate medical attention is sought, the aneurysm can be detected and surgically repaired. If the symptom is ignored, the next bleed can be catastrophic.

Headaches That are Worse in the Morning

A headache that is worse in the morning, improves after the person vomits, gradually improves as the day progresses and worsens with coughing, exercise, bending or kneeling is a common symptom of a brain tumor. This type of headache does not respond to usual headache remedies. However, Casilda Balmaceda, M.D., an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, states that only about eight percent of all patients with a brain tumor have headache as the first and only symptom. She points out that most brain tumors manifest with other symptoms such as altered mental status and seizures. Metastatic brain tumors are more frequently associated with the symptom of a headache than primary brain tumors. Other symptoms of a brain tumor often mimic other conditions. It is important to seek medical evaluation if you experience this type of headache or other symptoms that are unusual for you.

Severe Headache of Sudden Onset

A headache that occurs suddenly, is severe and appears to have no known cause is a reason for concern. If it is associated with sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg and only one side of the body is affected, this is a warning sign of a stroke. Additional symptoms of a stroke include sudden onset of confusion, trouble speaking and understanding, difficultly seeing in one or both eyes, trouble walking, dizziness, and loss of balance. A person who experiences these symptoms must seek immediate emergency medical attention.

Severe Headache with Stiff Neck and Fever

A severe headache that is associated with a stiff neck, high fever, nausea and vomiting warns of meningitis. Meningitis is the inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Additional symptoms of meningitis are confusion, seizures, sleepiness, sensitivity to light, loss of appetite, and in some cases, a skin rash. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Add a Comment15 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Hi Mary Ann, I have been awakened in the middle of the night frequently and recently with a headache behind my left eye and in the left side of my neck. What can that be caused from?

February 2, 2018 - 5:14am
EmpowHER Guest

Take this seriously! Learn from me!
Two weeks ago I had a horrible headache during sex. Unbearable. A few days pass and I get another one after some exertion (on the toilet). Later that day I got week, kind of confused and slightly blurry vision. I drove myself to the ER right away. It's a good thing I did cause it was a brain clot. I spent a day in the ER, a day in icu, and 2 more in regular hospital. It was horrible. I feel fine, but I'm on blood thinner meds now for at least 6 months probably more. I'm still alive but who knows what the future holds. Get it checked out!!!!

September 23, 2017 - 10:54am
EmpowHER Guest

I have been suffering from severe headache for past one month...i get pain whevr i get tension or depressed.And smtimes for no reason.Bt whn i get pain it actually makes me stay n bed..i coulnt able do any work...last week i had nasuea for no reason for almost 3 days.Actually few years back i got banged on wall heavily too.i really have no idea what s d reason for this sharp pain in my head

December 29, 2016 - 8:56am
Guide (reply to Anonymous)

Hello Anonymous,

Call to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician, today. Suffering with severe headaches for one month is too long.


December 29, 2016 - 9:36am
EmpowHER Guest

hello. my headache has been 5 days now. i took 4 painkillers and drank a lots of tea and water. my back of head, temples, and neck hurts, and eyes sore, neck stiffens, lose my balance and suddenly feel dizzy. also , i have born with anemia. i feel like i have a fever and numb.

October 15, 2016 - 5:47am
EmpowHER Guest

Hi. I received a different kind of headache . When i was site it will be ok .and when i was stand a different kind of headache come in only right side of my head for second and second it will be gone . I received this pain for 2 days.

July 18, 2016 - 3:25am
EmpowHER Guest

My boyfriend has been having sever attacks of pain in his head. It can start for no reason but coughing can bring it on too. The worst attack he had was when we had sex....He said he felt like he was going to die. When that attack happened the light was also affecting his eyes. Is this something serious? What can be done? He has called the emergency services 3 times and all they say is to take pain relief. He is not hom self at all, he appetite is suppressed, lathargic and keeps going hot and cold.

June 28, 2016 - 12:43pm
EmpowHER Guest

My co-worker gets migraine headaches frequently, at least once a month. Yesterday she had one so bad, she had to go home before she said she wouldn't be able to drive home. She said she has migraine medicine from her doctor. I just wonder about this, she is 31.
I wonder if this is dangerous, she has seen a dcotor about this a while ago, but she can't function when she gets these.

May 14, 2015 - 8:48am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I has a co worker that had the same issue. The doctor had her try all sorts of things including eating different. She went on an all natural fruit vegetable juice cleansing and then incorporated them into a healthy diet and it eliminated that issue.

November 28, 2015 - 12:14pm
EmpowHER Guest

I have been having this horrible constant headaches worse than I have ever felt in my life . Persistant Nausea, vomitting, blurred vision, swelling of glands on back of my head and I haven't been able to sleep.

January 24, 2015 - 10:47am
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