It’s safe to say that most people have had a headache, but we all have different experiences. The intensity and frequency of headaches vary with age, medical history, genetics, and lifestyle. The severity of your pain may also depend on the type of headache you experience.
Tension headaches, which are often triggered by stress, are the most common. These headaches cause a dull, aching sensation on both sides of your head. The pain is persistent and can be joined by a tightening of the neck muscles, and a heavy feeling behind the eyes.
Migraines are the second type of headache and are characterized by a throbbing pain usually focused on one side of your head. Those suffering from a migraine may experience vomiting, nausea, and a headache that increases with activity. While the pain of cluster headaches can be more severe than that of migraines, it lasts for a shorter period. This type of headache causes severe burning and piercing pain that occurs behind or around one eye or one side of the face.
According to the WHO, both doctors and patients tend to dismiss headaches as an inconvenience that will soon subside. But, a headache that seems harmless may have serious implications. To help you be alert for such implications there are warning signs you can look out for to determine the seriousness of your headache.
1. Thunderclap Headache
This type of headache is as dramatic as its name suggests, striking suddenly and fiercely like a clap of thunder. The pain reaches maximum severity within a minute and can last between an hour to 10 days. There are many potential causes of a thunderclap headache. These include a burst artery or an aneurysm, leaking spinal fluid, or rapid fluctuations in blood pressure. The most common cause, however, is a subarachnoid hemorrhage.
This refers to the bleeding of an artery into the space between the brain and the tissues covering the brain. The cerebrospinal fluid, which protects the brain from injury, circulates within this space. Thus, a hemorrhage in this area should be treated immediately, to avoid possible paralysis, coma, or death.
Head trauma is often the cause of subarachnoid hemorrhage. If you have a history of head trauma, then it is important that you seek medical intervention when a thunderclap headache occurs. Doing so might rule out subarachnoid hemorrhage as the cause. Other activities that may cause this headache include, intense labor, taking certain drugs, or sudden exposure to hot water.
Signs that you are experiencing a thunderclap headache include the pain that reaches its peak within 60 seconds. The pain can also radiate to your upper back and neck, and may also cause you to vomit or feel nauseous. You may also feel mentally confused. Although there is a chance that a thunderclap headache appeared for no reason, potentially life-threatening conditions could also be responsible. A normal CT scan will often be enough to determine the cause.