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Headache: First aid

Updated: 2023-02-21

Most headaches are minor, and you can treat them with a pain reliever. Some headaches, however, signal a dangerous or serious medical problem. Don't ignore headaches that aren't explained or headaches that steadily worsen.

Get immediate medical attention if your headache:

  • Develops suddenly and severely.
  • Persists for several days.
  • Causes mental confusion or loss of consciousness.
  • Happens with seizures.

Immediate medical attention also is needed if your headache occurs with new:

  • Dizziness or loss of balance.
  • Weakness or paralysis, such as in the arms or legs.
  • Numbness.
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
  • Reddened eye.

Also seek medical attention if your headache:

  • Occurs with a fever, stiff neck or rash.
  • Is accompanied by changes in vision, such as blurring or seeing halos around lights.
  • Is serious and follows a recent sore throat or respiratory infection.
  • Begins or worsens after a head injury, fall or bump.
  • Is triggered by changing the position of your head, coughing, sneezing, bending or physical activity.
  • Is a different type of headache from your usual type and you're older than 50.