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Quick Dose: When Is a Migraine Cause for Concern?

For some people, migraines are triggered by stress, certain foods, lack of sleep, hormones, allergies and changes in the weather. “There are many triggers,” explains Subhash K. Patel, MD, neurologist at Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group. “If you’ve had migraines for a long time, you may understand your normal patterns.”

However, some headaches could signal a serious condition, so it’s important to take note of new patterns, a change in the intensity of your headaches or recurring headaches that won’t go away.

Seek immediate care if:

  • It’s the first severe headache you’ve ever had, and it comes on suddenly (especially if you’re over 50)
  • The headache intensifies and gets worse over 24 hours
  • You experience slurred speech or change in vision
  • You have problems moving your arms or legs
  • You lose a sense of balance or experience vertigo
  • You are confused or have memory loss with your headache
  • The headache is severe in just one eye, with redness in that eye
  • You have a fever, stiff neck or vomiting

Dr. Patel also recommends that you seek medical attention right away if you’re having trouble keeping liquids down, because dehydration will worsen your symptoms.

Headaches can be debilitating, and they deserve the attention of a neurologist or headache specialist for a thorough evaluation. “It’s important to seek help once they start occurring. Self-medication without a diagnosis can make things worse,” says Dr. Patel.

Northwestern Medicine Neurosciences