One out of 7 Americans live with migraine headaches. If you’re part of that group, then you know all too well how these severe headaches can take over your life. Over time, most people learn ways to manage the symptoms, and some even figure out how to stop them in their tracks, but what happens when your migraines start to present with different symptoms?
To help you determine if your migraines are a sign of a bigger problem or are something else altogether, INSIDER asked a few healthcare experts to share the signs you need to be aware of.
You have an acute onset pain that feels like the worst headache of your life.
“Migraines often have a prodrome or aura giving you a warning of what is about to come,” Dr. Robert Carson, M.D. Ph.D. assistant professor of neurology and pediatrics at the University of Vanderbilt and advisor to Remedy Review, told INSIDER.
He explained that an immediate onset of the “worst headache of your life” may suggest a new structural problem leading to a headache, such as a ruptured cerebral blood vessel.
You have a headache with a fever.
A severe headache or a migraine with a fever is never something to ignore.
“A headache with characteristics different than your typical migraine but also associated with fever and a stiff neck may suggest meningitis,” said Carson. Since bacterial meningitis can be fatal, Carson said getting this type of headache checked out by a doctor is important.
You have neurologic symptoms you’ve never had before.
If you’re experiencing neurological symptoms such as facial weakness or arm weakness during one of your migraines, you need to get to a doctor right away. Carson said that FAST, an acronym medical experts use to describe a stroke, looks at facial weakness,arm weakness, speech difficulty, and time (both noting time of onset and trying to have as short of a time as possible to get medical attention).
You have a headache that awakens you from sleep or is worse in the morning.
When your head is pounding, and you know a migraine is about to happen, crawling into bed and closing your eyes is often the best way to help alleviate some of the symptoms. But if you’re experiencing new headaches that wake you from sleep or are worse in the morning, Carson said this might suggest increased intracranial pressure.
“If something is affecting the flow of cerebral spinal fluid, this pressure can increase while you are laying down, which may suggest a structural cause for a headache such as a tumour,” he explained.
You have persistent headaches with visual changes.
Ask anyone with a history of migraines what a visual aura is, and they are likely to describe seeing flashing lights or zigzag lines.
“Visual aura is a part of many peoples migraines,” said Carson. But if you’re experiencing a change to a continued headache and worsening vision, especially rapidly worsening vision, Carson said this may suggest something causing increased intracranial pressure.
“This could be due to a tumour or to what is called pseudotumor, an increase in intracranial pressure due to problems in the plumbing which helps cerebral spinal fluid drain,” he explained. If this sounds like you, you need to see your doctor right away.
You have dramatic changes in personality.
If you’re experiencing a sudden and drastic change in your personality, Scott McDougall (MPharm), the director of The Independent Pharmacy, told INSIDER that this can be a sign that your migraine indicates a bigger problem.
“If you or someone close to you has noticed you’re more irritable than usual, you’re confused, or you’re feeling depressed, it can be a red flag for something bigger,” he explained.
You have sore, red eyes during a migraine.
Before you reach for the Visine, make sure the soreness and redness you’re experiencing is not a sign of something more serious.
“Some people might find one or both of their eyes become sore and inflamed during their migraine, even becoming red,” said McDougall. “This is an outward sign that something is not right within the body, and should be investigated,” he explained.
You have a change in pattern or rhythm of migraines.
Most people who experience frequent migraines have a pretty good idea what to expect. But if you notice a deviation from your usual rhythm, McDougall said to see your doctor as soon as possible, since this may indicate a broader health problem.
To get a better idea of the pattern of your headaches, he suggested keeping a migraine diary with notes about the time, severity, symptoms, and frequency of your headaches.
You have increasing head pain with movement.
Sometimes coughing, sneezing, bending, or making any sudden movements can make your headache worse.
McDougall said if you’re experiencing a steady, throbbing pain in your head that feels worse during significant movement, you need to see your doctor.
You have headaches with sharp pain from the back of your neck.
Migraines generally follow a specific pattern for most people. But if you feel a sudden sharp, electrical-like pain coming from the back of your neck and radiating over the vertex of the skull, Dr. Ziv Peled, MD, told INSIDER that you might have occipital neuralgia.
While not a life-threatening condition, it’s still a good idea to see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
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