When should I see a doctor about my headaches?

You should seek medical attention if your headaches are moderate or severe in nature and are not responsive to over-the-counter pain relievers or if you have headaches occurring more frequently than three times per month. You should seek immediate medical attention if you have a new onset severe headache, continuous headache over several days or headache accompanied by other neurological symptoms such as change in vision, numbness, and difficulty with speech or weakness.
You should consider seeking medical attention for your headaches if they are becoming more frequent or severe in nature, are associated with nausea and vomiting, awaken you from sleep, or occur with numbness of the arms or legs, weakness, or dizziness. It is also important to consult your physician if your headaches are affecting your quality of life.
Call or go to the doctor or clinic if:
  • headaches wake you up from sleep
  • a headache lasts more than a few days
  • headaches are worse in the morning
  • headaches are now more frequent or more painful than your "usual" headaches
  • you have frequent headaches with no known cause
Because the following headache symptoms could indicate a serious health problem, seek medical care promptly if you experience any of these symptoms:
  • a sudden headache that feels like a blow to the head (with or without a stiff neck)
  • headache with fever
  • convulsions
  • persistent headache following a blow to the head
  • confusion or loss of consciousness
  • headache along with pain in the eye or ear
  • relentless headache when you were previously headache-free
  • headache that interferes with routine activities.

You have a headache emergency and should see your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately if you are experiencing the following:

  • severe headache with sudden onset
  • headache pain that feels like an explosion or thunderclap
  • severe headache that is clearly your worst-ever headache
  • headache pain that is continuous and becoming worse
  • headache pain that persists following an injury to the head
  • headache accompanied by one or more of these symptoms: stiff neck, severe pain when bending over, confusion, convulsions, loss of consciousness, persistent, severe vomiting

Make an appointment to see your doctor if you are experiencing the following:

  • more than three headaches per week
  • daily, or almost daily, use of pain relievers for headache pain
  • regular use of more than the recommended dose of nonprescription (over-the-counter) headache medications
  • recent onset of headache pain after being headache-free in the past
  • headaches beginning after the age of 50

Sometimes, headache can signal a more serious problem. You should talk to your doctor about your headaches if:

  • You have several headaches per month and each lasts for several hours or days.
  • Your headaches disrupt your home, work or school life.
  • You have nausea, vomiting, vision or other sensory problems (such as numbness or tingling).
  • You have pain around the eye or ear. You have a severe headache with a stiff neck.
  • You have a headache with confusion or loss of alertness.
  • You have a headache with convulsions. You have a headache after a blow to the head. You used to be headache-free, but now have headaches a lot.

This answer is based on source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

Dr. Steven A. Meyers, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

If your headaches are of recent onset or infrequent then start with your primary care physician. If the headaches are not responding to treatment, are very frequent, or result in significant disability, you should see a headache specialist.

Dr. Dawn Marcus

Any time you experience a significant change in your migraine headache pattern, you should talk to your doctor. What is a significant change? See your doctor if:

  • You develop a new type of headache—even if it's a mild headache
  • Your headaches become much more frequent or more disabling
  • Treatments that usually helped your headaches in the past no longer work
  • You develop new symptoms with your typical headache—such as a new aura
  • You start having other medical problems in addition to your headaches, such as weight loss, fevers, unsteadiness, slurred speech, or extremity weakness
The Woman's Migraine Toolkit: Managing Your Headaches from Puberty to Menopause (A DiaMedica Guide to Optimum Wellness)

More About this Book

The Woman's Migraine Toolkit: Managing Your Headaches from Puberty to Menopause (A DiaMedica Guide to Optimum Wellness)

Migraines are a common, controllable type of headache that affects one in every six women, more than 20 million in the United States alone. The Woman’s Migraine Toolkit helps readers take charge of...

Continue Learning about Headache

Is There a Link Between Migraines and Depression?
Is There a Link Between Migraines and Depression?
For most people battling chronic migraines, the crippling headaches, nausea, dizziness and light sensitivity are painful enough. But according to a ne...
Read More
What are non-drug treatments for headaches?
Dr. Maoshing Ni, PhD, LAcDr. Maoshing Ni, PhD, LAc
Sichuan lovage, or ligusticum, has for centuries, been a traditional Chinese remedy for agonizing mi...
More Answers
8 Surprising Migraine Triggers
8 Surprising Migraine Triggers8 Surprising Migraine Triggers8 Surprising Migraine Triggers8 Surprising Migraine Triggers
See if you recognize any of these unusual triggers.
Start Slideshow
Is the Pain of Migraine More Severe than Headaches?
Is the Pain of Migraine More Severe than Headaches?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.