When Does a Headache Need to Be Treated in the ER?
In many cases, a headache does not require emergency care, although a patient may seek relief of symptoms from a primary headache , such as a tension-type, migraine, or cluster headache. However, secondary headaches are caused by underlying conditions and some of these conditions may be serious or life-threatening. To assess whether a headache might require emergency care at West Hills Hospital, you could evaluate the co-existing symptoms.
Headache with Fever
Primary headaches are not typically associated with fever. However, a headache and a fever may develop in response to a systemic infection, which might require emergency care. At the ER, the emergency care team may perform computed tomography (CT) imaging and a lumbar puncture with opening pressure to determine if the headache might be caused by a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which refers to bleeding between the brain and the thin tissue covering it.
A thunderclap headache involves excruciating pain that develops rapidly. This symptom should be evaluated by an emergency care doctor. Some of the possible causes of thunderclap headaches can include stroke, carotid or vertebral arterial dissection, hypertensive encephalopathy, intracranial hypotension, and cerebral vasculitis.
Headache with Other Neurological Deficits
Many stroke survivors describe suffering the worst headache of their lives when the stroke occurred. Certain neurological deficits, with or without a severe headache, require emergency medical assistance. Patients should call 911 when stroke symptoms occur, such as sudden confusion, vision loss, slurred speech, trouble understanding speech, and sudden weakness, numbness, or tingling on one side of the body.
Headache After Head Trauma
Another reason why a headache might warrant emergency care is if it occurs after physical trauma to the head. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when the brain moves inside the skull. As the brain is forced against the interior of the skull, it can sustain significant damage. Some of the other possible symptoms of head trauma may include confusion, disorientation, and loss of consciousness.
The highly trained emergency care team at West Hills Hospital is always available to provide rapid evaluation and treatment to patients with medical emergencies. Please call 911 if you think you may be having a stroke or other medical emergency. For non-emergent concerns, you may call (818) 676-4321 to speak with a registered nurse at our community hospital.