How To Know If Your Head Pain Is More Serious Than It Seems

by Isadora Baum, CHC

It's 3 p.m. and you're feeling great — until that dreaded migraine hits: we've all been there. Dealing with headaches during the day can be debilitating, but sometimes they can signify an even greater issue that deserves more attention. If you think your head pain is more serious than it seems, take direct action and see a doctor to rule out any scary, more long-term consequences. Living with chronic head pain also has its own set of challenges.

As a certified health coach, I work with clients on finding fixes for any pains, especially those that seem confusing, sudden, or unexplained, as chronic pain can worsen your quality of life and pose a set of complications down the road. Together, we figure out why there's pain, what could be causing it, and how best to treat it, and often that requires a doctor visit to assist with any diagnoses. If you think that you're having troubling head pain that is worse than a headache or migraine (and yes, those are pretty horrible, as well), consider getting tested for other symptoms that could provide a better explanation. Here are seven ways to know that your head pain is actually more serious than you had thought.

1. You Hit Your Head

According to Dr. Beth McQuiston, MD, RD, Medical Director at Abbott, over email with Bustle, "an occasional headache is usually no more than an annoyance, and most would not consider it a serious medical issue. But if you have a headache or persistent headache after hitting your head, or after an external force shakes or jostles your brain, you may need further evaluation." McQuiston adds, "In this situation, what you may think is just a run of the mill headache could actually be a concussion or other traumatic brain injury."

2. You're Dizzy

"People suffering from a concussion might experience mild symptoms which can be similar to dehydration or a bad night’s sleep," says McQuiston, and feeling lightheaded and dizzy could be one of them. If you're feeling uneasy, in addition to the pain, consider getting checked.

3. Your Vision Changes

McQuiston also says that vision changes can be symptoms with more serious head trauma, indicating that seeing a physician could be helpful in treating this type of headache or migraine. If anything upsets your eyes, definitely seek help for a better diagnosis.

4. You Have A Concussion

"Unfortunately, today there is no fool-proof way to objectively diagnose a concussion. That’s why a team at Abbott is working to develop rapid blood tests designed to evaluate these brain injuries," says McQuiston. "It’s important for everyone — family members, friends, parents and coaches — to learn how to recognize the symptoms and seek help if they think someone may have a concussion," such as nausea and lightheadedness, McQuiston adds, as well as experts at Mayo Clinic.

5. You're Feeling Sick In Other Ways

If you're sneezing or coughing, along with the headaches, it could mean that your headache is more serious than you think and could be linked to other illnesses or allergies. If so, see a physician to figure out your next best steps for recovery.

6. You're Not Eating Well

If you're always getting head pain in the day and you're skipping meals, it could lead to malnutrition over time, and such deficiencies can hinder your longevity and health, advised experts at Livestrong. Often, headaches arise when you're hungry, so if you notice this pattern, it's best to nip it right away before you damage yourself.

7. It's Way Too Intense

If your head pain is unbearable and it's like the worst you've ever had in your life, it could mean that your headache is more serious. If left untreated, it could lead to internal bleeding, such as in the brain (which can be super scary), or central nervous system infections.

If you notice any of these symptoms, book it to a physician. Letting a headache persist when it's more serious can be dangerous, long-term.