5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Headaches

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 28, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on July 28, 2014

5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Headaches

Most people have headaches on and off throughout their lives. In general, they can be dealt with easily with over-the-counter pain relievers and lifestyle changes. However, a doctor should assess any frequent or severe headaches. You should also see a doctor if the pattern of your headaches changes suddenly. This can be a sign of more serious illness.

If you’re seeing a doctor about headaches, it’s probably because you want to learn more about your condition. Here are five questions you may want to ask.

How Much Medication Can I Take?

Medication overuse is a big problem for people with frequent headaches.  What you may not realize is that too much can actually make your pain worse. If your body becomes accustomed to the medicine, rebound headaches may occur when it wears off. It’s therefore very important to discuss your medication use with your doctor. The amount you can take safely varies from drug to drug. The length of time you can take a drug safely varies as well.

Rebound headaches are not the only potential problem associated with medication overuse. Some of the more powerful painkillers used for migraines and cluster headaches also carry the risk of dependency and addiction.

What if My Medication Doesn't Work?

Your prescribed medication should offer prompt relief from headache symptoms. If it does not, talk to your doctor. Depending on the medication, you may be able to try another dose. Your doctor may also prescribe a backup medication.

If you have frequent medication failures, you may need to switch to a different drug. Not all headache medications work for everyone, and it can take time to find the drug that will work best for you.

Could Some Other Disease Be Causing My Headaches?

Primary headaches are classified into the following groups and are not generally related to other diseases:

  • tension headaches
  • migraines
  • cluster headaches

Secondary headaches are symptoms of another disorder. A large range of medical problems can cause secondary headaches, including:

  • stroke
  • brain aneurysm
  • meningitis
  • influenza
  • glaucoma
  • alcohol hangover

If an underlying disease is causing your headaches, it's important to identify and treat it. Consider reporting any unusual headache symptoms to a doctor.

Are There Alternative Treatments That Might Help?

Not all headaches need to be treated with prescription medication. Some people have had success using alternative treatments for headache pain, such as:

  • acupuncture
  • massage
  • biofeedback

In addition, several supplements have made claims to reduce either the severity or frequency of migraine pain for some individuals. These include:

  • feverfew
  • butterbur
  • coenzyme Q10
  • riboflavin
  • magnesium

However, it’s important to talk to your doctor before trying alternative treatments or supplements. Reports of success are often anecdotal. Also, herbal treatments can have significant side effects. For example, pregnant women can use neither butterbur nor feverfew safely. There is also the possibility that any supplement you are taking might be contributing to, rather than improving, your headache symptoms.

What Symptoms Indicate An Emergency?

Suffering from frequent headaches can be extremely stressful, and not only because of the pain. It can also be difficult to distinguish between a "normal" headache and one that might indicate a life-threatening situation.

Ask your doctor about what symptoms you should watch for to indicate a serious condition, such as an aneurysm or stroke. There are subtle differences in the type and location of pain based on the underlying cause of the headache. 

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