Fatal headaches - 7 symptoms you must not ignore
how to recognise headaches that could be fatal
Headaches are an extremely common problem in Australian society. Indeed it is estimated that about 70% of our population suffer from headaches of some kind.
In a small number of cases a headache can be caused by a life-threatening illness such as a stroke, an aneurysm, a brain tumor, or bleeding in the brain. So how do you tell the difference?
Fortunately the most common types of headaches are tension headaches, cervicogenic headaches and migraines. These headaches will either go away or they can be successfully controlled with the right treatment and diet and lifestyle changes. Learn more about these headaches in our blog:
So how do you tell a fatal headache for a non-life threatening headache?
These are 7 of the most common warning signs that you may have a potentially fatal headache. If you have any of these symptoms you need to seek medical help urgently.
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1. A sudden, severe headache
These are called “thunderclap” headaches and they usually peak in intensity within 60 seconds. The pain may improve after an hour however they can be very dangerous. They are often caused by bleeding in the brain that can occur after an aneurysm, stroke or other injury. Other symptoms associated with these headaches are nausea, vomiting and mental confusion.
2. A Headache after a head injury
A headache that follows a head trauma can indicate a brain injury such as a concussion or haemorrhage. In some cases the headache starts days after the injury. It is especially concerning if the headache continues to worsen after the injury.
Remember even a minor fall or bump to the head can result in potentially life-threatening bleeding (haemorrhage) in the brain. Other symptoms of brain injury can include loss of consciousness, vomiting and weakness, memory loss, impaired vision and changed mental state.
3. A severe headache with a fever and stiff neck
This type of headache can be due to meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. This is caused by a viral or bacterial infection.
Other symptoms of meningitis are fever, rash, light sensitivity and muscle rigidity. This condition is life-threatening and needs immediate medical attention.
4. A headache with one-sided numbness and weakness
A sudden, severe headache with weakness and numbness on one side of the head and down to the shoulders
and arms can indicate damage to the venous sinuses in your brain. If they become clogged they can cause bleeding in the brain and a stroke. Other symptoms to beware of are speech and vision impairment and also sensitivity to light and loud noise.
5. A headache with neck and face pain
A tear in one of the carotid arteries that supply blood to your neck, face, ears and head can cause these types of headaches. This called a carotid artery dissection (CAD) and will lead to a stroke. They are usually experienced as a sudden and intense headache.
6. A headache after physical exertion
A headache that occurs after heavy exertion and is felt as a sudden severe pain, could be indicative of a haemorrhage, stroke or tumour and needs to be investigated. Other symptoms to be concerned about with exertion headaches are speech, balance or vision changes
7. A new or unusual headache
If you experience a headache that you have never had before you need to be very cautious. You should seek medical attention urgently if your headache:
- suddenly changes in frequency, location, or severity
- affects your vision, muscle control or speech
- is causing weakness anywhere in your body
- is getting consistently worse over time
- is accompanied by changes in personality
New headaches symptoms are of even greater concern if you are over 50 years of age as it can indicate giant cell arteritis, a brain tumor or a stroke.
over to you
If you are concerned about a headache with any of these signs, especially if severe and sudden, call 000 for urgently medical attention.
Please share this information on facebook and help others, you could save someone’s life.
We would love to hear your headache stories – both good and bad – and what help you in the comments section below.
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