Red flags can warn you of dangerous headaches

A headache can be mild or excruciating, but the degree of pain isn’t necessarily a sign of how serious it is.

“A headache may stem from a harmless problem, or it might be a sign of a life-threatening disorder,” says Dr. Ahmed Jafri, a neurologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “There are certain red flags that should send a person to the doctor, or even an emergency room.”

Anyone who frequently uses pain medication to self-treat chronic headaches should seek medical help, Dr. Jafri says.

However, any of these symptoms call for immediate emergency care:

  • A change in the character or pattern of existing headaches;
  • Explosive headaches;
  • Pain that continues to increase in intensity;
  • New headaches in children or seniors;
  • The worst headache of my life”; or
  • Headache with exertion, coughing or sexual activity.
  • Dr. Jafri also says that a headache accompanied by fever and stiff neck, or visual impairment, or fainting, or paralysis anywhere on the body, or bloodshot eyes with tearing and a runny nose requires medical care.

    Visit to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in the neurosciences, including neurology.

    June 6-12 is National Headache Awareness Week.

    Media Contact: Aline McKenzie

    Return to June 2010 News Tips