We all suffer from the occasional headache due to stress or tension. But what if the headache isn’t simply a passing nuisance that can be tamed by an over-the-counter pill?
Experts say that a headache is often the first sign of a serious and even life-threatening illness. That’s why it’s important to distinguish normal headache pain from something different.

“Many of these potentially fatal conditions can be treated successfully with drugs or surgery if they are caught in time,” Dr. Roger K. Cady, associate executive chairman n of the National Headache Foundation and adjunct professor at Missouri State University, tells Newsmax Health.

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 “If the pain and other symptoms are different – unlike anything you have experienced before – that’s the first clue that it may not be a garden-variety headache and should be checked out.”

Cleveland Clinic outlines headache symptoms that can signal a dangerous underlying condition:
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Pain above or behind the eye
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stiff neck
Ranya Habash, M.D., an internist and ophthalmologist in Boca Raton, Fla., says that these five potentially deadly conditions can masquerade as headaches.

1.     Brain aneurysm: Patients often describe it as the worst headache of their lives. Dr. Cady states that a leaky aneurysm can be treated if you seek medical help before it ruptures. A ruptured brain aneurysm can be fatal if not treated immediately.
 
2.     Temporal arteritis: Headache pain in one or both temples along with pain while chewing food, scalp tenderness, and vision changes can signal temporal arteritis. This condition can lead to blindness if not treated.
 
3.     Angle closer glaucoma: “Patients will complain of a severe headache along with pain in or behind the eye,” says Dr. Habash. Associated symptoms include eye redness, tearing, blurred vision, nausea, and light sensitivity. If untreated, it can lead to blindness.
 
4.     Pseudotumor cerebri: If a headache occurs mainly in the morning upon waking and is accompanied by nausea and vomiting, it may signal this condition, which is characterized by high pressure in the brain. It can be treated successfully with medication.
 
5.     Meningitis: A headache with nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, fever, chills, and generalized malaise may indicate meningitis. This serious inflammation of the brain and spinal fluid is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It’s diagnosed with a spinal tap and treated with antibiotics.

Only a tiny percentage of headaches are signs of serious health problems, but if your pain is unusual and accompanied by symptoms that you haven’t had before, it is worth the peace of mind to see your doctor and make sure it is not being caused by an underlying condition, experts say. 

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