One in seven Americans live with migraine. If you are part of that group, then you know all too well how this severe headache can take over your life. Over time, most people learn ways to control symptoms, and some even discover how they can stop them, but what happens when your migraine starts with different symptoms?
To help determine if your migraine is a sign of a bigger problem or something else, INSIDER asked a few health care professionals to share the signs you need to know.
You have an acute starting pain that feels like the worst headache of your life.
"Migraine often has a prodrome or aura that gives you a warning about what is coming", Dr. ir. Robert Carson, M.D. Ph.D. assistant professor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of Vanderbilt and advisor of Remedy Review, told INSIDER.
He explained that an immediate beginning of the "worst headache of your life" can suggest a new structural problem that leads to headaches such as a ruptured cerebral blood vessel.
You have a headache with a fever.
A severe headache or a migraine with fever is never something to ignore.
"A headache with different characteristics than your typical migraine but also associated with fever and a stiff neck may suggest meningitis," Carson said. Because bacterial meningitis can be fatal, Carson said it is important to have this type of headache checked by a doctor.
You have neurological symptoms that you have never had before.
If you experience neurological symptoms such as weakness in the face or weakness of the arm during one of your migraines, you should go to a doctor immediately. Carson said that FAST, an acronym that medical experts use to describe a stroke, looks at facial weakness,aweakness, speech difficulty, and time (both have the starting time and try to have as short a time as possible to call for medical assistance).
You have a headache that makes you wake up or worse in the morning.
When your head bumps and you know a migraine is about to happen, you crawl into bed and often close your eyes to the best way to relieve some of the symptoms. But if you get a new headache that makes you wake up or get worse in the morning, Carson says that this may indicate increased intracranial pressure.
"If something affects the flow of brain spinal cord fluid, this pressure may increase while lying down, which can be a structural cause for headaches such as a tumor," he explained.
You have persistent headaches with visual changes.
Ask someone with a history of migraine that is a visual aura, and they will probably describe seeing flashing lights or zigzag lines.
"Visual aura is part of the migraine of many people," Carson said. But if you experience a change in persistent headaches and poorer vision, especially rapidly worsening facial effects, Carson said that this might suggest something that causes increased intracranial pressure.
"This may be due to a tumor or to what is called pseudo-tumor, an increase in intracranial pressure due to problems in the drainpipes that help drain the brain spinal cord," he explains. If this seems like you, you should go to your doctor immediately.
You have dramatic changes in personality.
If you experience a sudden and drastic change in your personality, Scott McDougall (MPharm), the director of The Independent Pharmacy, told INSIDER that this may be a sign that your migraine is a bigger problem.
"If you or someone in your area notices that you are more irritated than normal, you are confused or you feel depressed, it can be a red flag for something bigger," he explained.
You have painful, red eyes during a migraine.
Before you go to the Visine, you must ensure that the pain and redness you experience is not a sign of anything more serious.
"Some people will notice that their eyes become painful and inflamed during their migraine and even turn red," says McDougall. "This is a sign that something is not right in the body and needs to be examined," he explained.
Read more: 7 things that your eyes tell you about your overall health
You have a change in pattern or rhythm of migraine.
Most people who frequently have migraines know pretty well what to expect. But if you notice a deviation from your usual rhythm, McDougall told you to consult your doctor as soon as possible, as this may indicate a broader health problem.
To get a better idea of the pattern of your headache, he suggested keeping a migraine diary with notes about the time, severity, symptoms and frequency of your headaches.
You have an increasing headache with movement.
Sometimes coughing, sneezing, bending or making sudden movements can make your headache worse.
McDougall said that if you experience a constant, throbbing pain in your head that feels worse during significant movements, you should consult your doctor.
You have a headache with sharp pain from the back of your neck.
Migraine generally follow a specific pattern for most people. But if you feel a sudden sharp, electric-like pain coming from the back of your neck and radiating over the top of the skull, Dr. Ziv Peled, MD, INSIDER that you may have occipital neuralgia.
Although it is not a life-threatening condition, it is still a good idea to consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
Visit the INSIDER homepage for more information.
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