Even though they’re one of the most common pain conditions in the world, with as many as 75% of adults experiencing a headache in the past year alone, headaches can cause much discomfort and become severe in certain cases.
Headaches are a big reason why many people are forced to miss work and school. When the pain is too unbearable, it can also take a toll on social and family life. Fortunately, headaches can be treated in most cases — whether at home or under the care of a medical professional.
So how do you know if you can treat your headache on your own or if you need to see a doctor? Here’s a look at what causes headaches and when you should go to an urgent care for medical care.
What are the types of headaches?
There are more than 150 types of headaches that can occur, with all of them falling into one of two main categories: primary and secondary headaches.
Primary headaches are caused by overactivity of or problems with structures in your head that are pain-sensitive. These types of headaches aren’t indicative of another medical condition. The following types of headaches fall into this category: cluster headaches, migraines, tension headaches, and new daily persistent headaches.
Secondary headaches, on the other hand, are linked to another medical condition. There are a lot of conditions, which vary in severity, that can cause secondary headaches. These conditions include acute sinusitis, brain tumor, concussion, dehydration, high blood pressure, meningitis, and strokes — among many others. You can see the full list here.
What causes headaches?
Signals among the brain, blood vessels, and surrounding nerves interact regularly. When you have a headache, specific nerves are activated, which impact muscles and blood vessels, causing the nerves to send pain signals to your brain.
Several things can cause a headache, including sinus pain, allergies, high blood pressure, stress, depression, anxiety, and changes in estrogen levels during menstruation.
Other lifestyle habits such as alcohol use, lack of sleep, changes in eating patterns, emotional stress, poor posture, and excessive medication use can also lead to tension headaches or migraines.
Can urgent care treat migraines?
Urgent care facilities are a great place to get treatment for migraines. Instead of making an appointment at a physician’s office, CareNow® urgent care welcomes walk-in appointments. You can also utilize our Web Check-In® feature, which allows you to wait from anywhere.
Since CareNow® clinics are open after hours and on the weekends, you can make appointments when it’s convenient for you. Our focus is on getting you the care you need promptly so you can be on your way in no time.
Can headaches be prevented?
The only way to prevent headaches is to understand what is triggering yours specifically. The things that give you a headache may not be an issue for others and vice versa.
When you see a doctor, walk them through when you notice the pain most often. Take note of what you’ve eaten, what your stress level is, and anything else that may be a potential trigger for your headaches. That way, you can work together to understand how you can avoid these triggers and prevent recurring headaches in the future.
How does urgent care treat migraines?
Migraines are a form of primary headaches that can be debilitating. If you visit an urgent care clinic with a migraine, the focus will be on both stopping symptoms and preventing future attacks.
Many medications can help treat migraines, including pain-relieving medications and preventative medicines. Talk with a physician about the frequency and severity of your headaches to determine which medication is best for you.
Many doctors will recommend stress management to help with primary headaches that are seemingly caused by stress or anxiety. In this situation, relaxation techniques can be extremely helpful to minimize the impact stress has on your headaches. Deep breathing, mental images, music, and muscle relaxation have all been proven to help certain types of headaches.
When to go to urgent care for a headache
If you experience a sudden, new, severe headache, it’s a good idea to see a doctor who can help you identify which type of headache you have and if treatment is needed.
Seek medical attention any time you have a headache that is so severe it wakes you up at night, a headache that is accompanied by nausea or vomiting, or a headache that includes a rash, stiff neck, shortness of breath, or a fever.
You should visit an urgent care clinic if you have the following symptoms along with your headache. They may treat you on-site or send you to an emergency room, depending on your exact symptoms:
- Difficulty speaking
- Mental confusion
- Numbness or tingling
- Vision changes
- Personality changes
- Sudden loss of balance or falling
What will an urgent care do for headaches?
Before treatment, your doctor will want to identify what might be causing your headache. Be prepared to share a description of your headache, how often you experience them, what your diet was like earlier in the day, your caffeine intake, and what your stress level is.
For immediate care, your provider may recommend over-the-counter medications or write a prescription for pain relief medication and recommend applying a heat pack or ice pack. If your headaches are regular, they may send you to a specialist for scanning and additional care.
The next steps will be focused on preventing headache pain in the future by making lifestyle changes to minimize stress, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and eating regular meals.
Although rare, your doctor may prescribe you preventative medicine like anti-epileptic drugs, beta-blockers, and antidepressants for severe cases.
If you believe you need medical care for a headache or recurring headaches, consider visiting your local CareNow® clinic. We’re fully staffed with qualified physicians ready to care for you and your family.
Don't forget to take advantage of our convenient Web Check-In® feature too!
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions, or deciding if medical advice is right for you.