When does a headache need extra attention? from Harvard Men’s Health Watch

A minor headache is little more than a nuisance that can be relieved by an over-the-counter pain reliever, some food or coffee, or a short rest. Severe or unusual headaches raise the specter of stroke, a tumor, or a blood clot. Although these are rare causes of headache, it's important to know when a headache needs extra attention, reports the June 2009 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch.

Here are some warning signs of headaches that signal the need for prompt medical care:

  • headaches that first develop after age 50
  • a major change in the pattern of your headaches
  • an unusually severe "worst headache ever"
  • pain that increases with coughing or movement
  • headaches that steadily get worse
  • changes in personality or mental function
  • headaches that are accompanied by fever, stiff neck, confusion, or neurological symptoms
  • headaches after a blow to the head
  • headaches that prevent normal daily activities
  • headaches that come on abruptly.

For most people, an occasional headache is nothing more than a temporary speed bump in the course of a busy day, notes Harvard Men's Health Watch. Most headaches you can take care of by yourself with simple lifestyle measures and nonprescription medications. Relaxation techniques, acupuncture, and yoga may also help. For more persistent or painful headaches, talk with your doctor about medications and other strategies. And learn to recognize the warning signs that call for prompt medical care.

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