There are basically three major types of headaches:
1. TENSION HEADACHE: This is your garden-variety headache, with diffuse pain wrapping across the top of your head. These headaches often result from stress or lack of sleep. They're not usually disabling, typically fade overnight, and can be easily relieved with ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin. Or, better yet, my herbal teas and baths.
2. MIGRAINE HEADACHE: Migraines tend to hit one side of the head, and can last from several hours to several days. They’re usually marked by a sensitivity to sound and light.
3. CLUSTER HEADACHE: This one is an excruciating attack that explodes behind one eye, reaches a crescendo after about an hour, and then vanishes—only to return in a day or so. This goes on for a few weeks, and then stops for months.
Here are six that could be a sign of something serious—and potentially deadly. Watch out for . . .
The Thunderclap Headache
If head pain hits you like a bolt out of nowhere, intensifying in a few minutes into the worst headache you've ever had, call 911. The list of causes for this kind of headache isn't long (aneurysm, stroke, meningitis) but almost everything on it can be very quickly fatal.
The Exercise Headache
If your headache comes on quickly and furiously with violent physical exertion, see a doctor right away. Chances are, the cause is benign, but it also could be a subarachnoid hemorrhage.
The Headache that Spreads to Your Neck
Benign headaches stay in your head . Headaches that don't can be meningitis or a hemorrhage. So yes, call 911, especially if you have a fever, are just getting over a bacterial infection, have a rash, or can't think clearly.
The Headache that Won't End
A headache that comes and goes for days—with a low-grade fever, visual disturbances, and aching in one or both of your temples—often signals an inflammation of the arteries that can leave you blind if not treated. See your doctor right away.
The Contagious Headache
Your family is all home on a cold, rainy Saturday. As the day goes on you develop a headache that grows steadily worse. If anyone else has the same headache, move everyone outdoors immediately. There's a malfunction in your heating system and it's spewing carbon monoxide. Once you're out of the house, call the fire department. Your headache should clear up in a few hours.
I've had this one happen to me. Since my business keeps me home most of the time, I was the only one who had this headache and it was so bad that I had to go to bed. When I would go outside for 15 minutes or so, my headache cleared up. This kept happening for a whole day until I finally figured out that it must be carbon monoxide poisoning. I shut off the furnace and opened the doors and windows and started feeling better almost right away. Needless to say, the furnace got cleaned and checked pronto. (We had just purchased our house in the summer and had an oil furnace.) The fall is a good time friends, to make sure that your furnace is checked and change any filters and what not needed. It also is a good investment to get a carbon monoxide monitor.
The Headache that Wakes You Up
You should also be concerned if your headache has been worsening for weeks, or if it’s present every morning when you wake up. This is the classic pattern for a slowly expanding mass. It may not warrant a 911 call, but you should see your doctor and schedule an MRI right away.
Also, friends, if you should fall and hit your head, especially the back part, go to a hospital and get it checked out. People have been known to be dead in 24 hours from a fall that involves the head. So, don't try to tough it out, and even if you feel ok at first, go anyway just to make sure.