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When to See a Neurologist for Headaches

If you're reading this, you probably think most people have headaches, right? Why should you go see a neurologist if it's just a fact of life? Stress, red wine, weather changes, they all are known to cause headaches, am I right?

Actually, it may surprise you to learn that some people have never had a headache in their life! Or if they do, they don't need to lie down in a dark and quiet room for hours before it goes away.

So at what point do headaches become a medical problem? In this post, Boca Raton Neurologist Dr. Renata Chalfin discusses the symptoms and warning signs that you may need some help if you have headaches.

Woman with migraines

Signs you would benefit from the help of a medical doctor, especially a neurologist

If you've had headaches most of your life, you may have learned to deal with them somewhat, but you don't have to suffer forever. There are many treatments, both natural and conventional, that have been shown to be very effective in treating headaches.

If you have headaches that are severe enough for you to miss work, school, household duties, or personal events, you should see a doctor. Same goes if you have a headache more than once per week, especially if you're taking medications for pain more than a couple times a month (Excedrin, Tylenol - all of these count!). Don't freak out yet! This doesn't mean that you have a serious condition. Your doctor will take your history and examine you. If everything is normal, you may just have a primary headache disorder such as Episodic Migraine or Tension Headache. Treating these with the advice of a neurologist is your best chance of getting rid of them altogether or at least keeping them at bay and preventing them from turning into something chronic.

If your headaches last more than 4 hours (adults) or 2 hours (children); are accompanied by sensitivity to lights, noise, or smells; or nausea and/or vomiting, you should see a doctor. Some of these may be signs of Migraine. Best to get checked out and receive some medical advice.

But what if your headaches are even more than that? The rest of this post lists red flags - for seeking immediate medical attention - and other signs of a serious medical condition. If you have a question, give me a call! I'd be happy to talk you through things.

Dangerous Signs - Go to the ER!

  • Sudden, severe headache that peaks within 1 minute or less ("thunderclap headache"); or

Headache accompanied by:

  • head trauma/injury, drug use, toxin exposure, or possible carbon monoxide exposure

  • neck rigidity and/or fever

  • confusion, hallucination, or behavior changes

  • vision loss, even if it's transient, or double vision

  • numbness

  • weakness of an arm, leg, or both on one side of the body

  • inability to speak or understand speech

  • dizziness/sensation of room spinning, slurred speech

  • seizure (obviously, I hope)

Serious signs you should seek the advice of a medical doctor soon

  • New headaches in a person over age 50 that never suffered from headaches;

  • Headaches that have changed, become worse or more frequent than they used to be;

  • Headaches that occur primarily in the morning;

  • Headaches that awaken you from sleep;

  • Headaches that worsen with coughing, straining, or sneezing;

  • Headaches that change with position, e.g., are triggered by lying down/bending over or standing up;

  • Blurring or loss of vision that occurs when you bend your head forward;

  • Systemic conditions (pregnancy, immunocompromised state, cancer, or just fevers/chills, night sweats, weight loss);

Headaches accompanied by:

  • blurring of the vision, vision loss, or seeing halos around lights;

  • ringing or whooshing sound in the ears;

  • losing your peripheral vision;

  • loss of coordination or balance;

  • nausea or vomiting; or

  • sweating, racing of the heart, and high blood pressure.

If you are suffering from any of these symptoms, please call 561-961-8575 to make an appointment with Dr. Renata Chalfin. We frequently have same or next day appointments!

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