When headaches become lethal: types of a headache that you should not ignore

headache migraine

Headaches are painful nuisances that everyone experiences at some point in their lifetime. They may be regarded as annoyances, but the causes of headaches may be severe conditions.

Common non-life-threatening types are: sinus, tension, TMJ, neck, cluster, and migraine. You may wish to see a doctor manage chronic symptoms, but often these may be treated with over the counter medicine and rest.

Since headaches are common, and since the aforementioned varieties can be extremely painful, it can be difficult to tell when to see a doctor. Below are some dangerous types of headaches and their symptoms. In general, these headache symptoms are severe, rapid-onset, and are accompanied by other warning signs.

Thunderclap headache

These strike with rapidity and severity. They can develop in a minute or less. They may disappear quickly, but they can also last for weeks. If you experience this type, seek medical attention immediately, as causes for these headaches include strokes, aneurysms, or hemorrhaging around the brain.

Post-concussion syndrome

Severe headaches can develop following an accident. A concussion requires treatment by a doctor, so seek help promptly. Loss of consciousness after an injury, drowsiness, confusion, impaired reaction times, nausea or vomiting, or difficulty with memory, are all symptoms of this headache type. Pain may not develop immediately after a head injury, but may occur hours or days later. Though concussions are common, their seriousness must not be undermined.

A headache that worsens when walking

Headaches that are worse in the morning and improve after vomiting or that get worse with movement could signal a brain tumor. If you notice such pain when you walk, exercise, or engage in a rigorous physical activity, or if you experience vomiting, you may wish to consult a doctor.

Subarachnoid hemorrhage

The area between the brain and surrounding tissues is the subarachnoid space. It is normally filled with fluid and helps to cushion your brain. If excess fluid gets into the subarachnoid space, it puts pressure on the brain. The resulting pain is severe and often begins at the base of the skull. Other symptoms are sensitivity to light, numbness, neck pain, nausea and vomiting, seizures, and confusion. This type can lead to coma, paralysis, and death. While rare, the effects of a subarachnoid hemorrhage can be devastating.

Sudden headache

Sudden headaches reach intensity rapidly. If rapid-onset occurs in conjunction with numbness, weakness, loss of balance, or inability to speak, then these can be signs of a stroke. This requires immediate medical attention.

Unusual headache

This potentially life-threatening type of a headache encompasses all the aforementioned types. Headaches that occur following exercise or sex, those that are accompanied by weakness, loss of balance, confusion, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, or seizures are cause for concern. If you are experiencing the “worst headache of your life” or the symptoms prevent you from being able to carry on with your day, you may be facing a severe health crisis. You should see a physician to rule out a life-threatening condition. You know your body better than anyone else, so if you are experiencing something abnormal, contact your doctor.

Headache Treatments

With speedy treatment, a patient increases the chance that medical intervention will be effective.


Most types mentioned above do not respond to over the counter medication due to the severity of their underlying causes. Where blood clots or stroke are found to be the headaches causes, blood thinners such as warfarin or aspirin may be given immediately. Other medications to manage pain or nausea may be administered by doctors to reduce symptoms while the root cause is determined.


For headaches caused by subarachnoid hemorrhages, aneurysms, or strokes, surgery may be required. Depending on the location, brain tumors may also require surgery. Additional chemotherapy, radiation treatments, or tumor-treating fields may be prescribed as part of an ongoing treatment for the underlying cause.

Rest and Monitoring

Following a concussion or injury, a patient should be monitored by a medical professional and remain cognizant of any changes in condition for several weeks after the accident. Treatment following concussions require time and patience. A patient may have to reduce their activities to allow the body time to heal. If symptoms reduce and then return, it sometimes signals that a patient has tried to do too much too soon after the injury.

These headache types can signal deeper medical concerns that require prompt attention. By listening to your body, you can improve your quality of life and get the medical treatment that you need in a timely manner.


In this instance, an athlete was originally diagnosed with minor quadriceps muscle strain and was treated for four weeks, with unsatisfactory results. When he came to our clinic, the muscle was not healing, and the patients’ muscle tissue had already begun to atrophy.

Upon examination using MSUS, we discovered that he had a full muscle thickness tear that had been overlooked by his previous provider. To mitigate damage and promote healing, surgery should have been performed immediately after the injury occurred. Because of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, the patient now has permanent damage that cannot be corrected.

The most important advantage of Ultrasound over MRI imaging is its ability to zero in on the symptomatic region and obtain imaging, with active participation and feedback from the patient. Using dynamic MSUS, we can see what happens when patients contract their muscles, something that cannot be done with MRI. From a diagnostic perspective, this interaction is invaluable.

Dynamic ultrasonography examination demonstrating
the full thickness tear and already occurring muscle atrophy
due to misdiagnosis and not referring the patient
to proper diagnostic workup

Demonstration of how very small muscle defect is made and revealed
to be a complete tear with muscle contraction
under diagnostic sonography (not possible with MRI)


Complete tear of rectus femoris
with large hematoma (blood)


Separation of muscle ends due to tear elicited
on dynamic sonography examination

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