Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: When to call the doctor about headaches

Q. How long should I let a headache last before I see a doctor?

A. That's a hard question to answer without knowing a lot more. Some people have headaches frequently. Women are more likely to suffer from migraine headaches if another close relative (particularly a female relative) suffers from migraines. Many types of headaches, particularly migraine headaches, begin in childhood and afflict people for years.

If you suffer from frequent headaches, the questions you should ask about a new headache is: how does it compare to past headaches? Is it lasting longer than usual? Is it more severe? Contact your doctor when the headache seems different from past headaches: it starts like a bolt out of the blue, it is more severe than ever, it is accompanied by unusual symptoms such as lightheadedness or dizziness. Even a headache that's not responding to treatments is cause for concern.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »