Do You Need to Go to the ER for a Headache?

In most cases, headaches are not red flags of a serious medical condition, although they can certainly be bothersome. When a headache does require emergency care, it’s because of the possibility that a serious or life-threatening medical condition is causing the headache. Stroke, meningitis, brain aneurysm, and carbon monoxide poisoning are all examples of problems that can cause headaches and require emergency care. Families in the greater Las Vegas area can turn to MountainView Hospital—a Certified Primary Stroke Center—for all sorts of medical emergencies.

Sudden Symptoms
The abrupt onset of severe symptoms is one reason to call 911. When symptoms develop rapidly, emergency medicine physicians must consider the possibility that the patient is suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm or stroke. When these life-threatening problems are the cause of a headache, the pain is often described as being “the worst headache of one’s life.” Other warning signs of stroke include slurred speech, confusion, one-sided weakness, and difficulty walking. A ruptured brain aneurysm can cause confusion, stiff neck, blurry vision, seizure, and loss of consciousness.

Accompanying Symptoms
Aside from a ruptured brain aneurysm and stroke, there are other medical conditions that can cause a headache and other accompanying symptoms. For example, malignant hypertension refers to the rapid onset of extremely high blood pressure. Along with a headache, this can cause changes in mental status, blurry vision, shortness of breath, chest pain, and weakness. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, fainting, and nausea. Meningitis can cause headaches, light sensitivity, fever, stiff neck, confusion, and lethargy.

Pre-Existing Medical Conditions
Even when a severe headache is not accompanied by other warning signs, an ER visit may be called for in certain people. Those who have pre-existing medical conditions such as HIV infection, other infections that compromise the immune system, or liver, heart, or kidney disease may want to err on the side of caution and see a doctor right away. Women who are pregnant are also advised to exercise caution when unusual headaches develop, as are those who have recently suffered a head injury.

For all of your emergency medical care needs, you can count on MountainView Hospital . We are the leading providers of exceptional emergency medicine in Las Vegas, including stroke care. If you might have a life-threatening medical problem, please call 911 without delay; otherwise, you can reach a registered nurse at our community hospital by calling (702) 233-5300.

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