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Migraine Headache FAQs (cont.)

How dangerous are migraine headaches?

Although migraine headaches are excruciating, they are seldom life threatening. They are harmful to a person's quality of life, however, and sometimes cause depression and/or anxiety disorders, especially if the headaches are uncontrolled by medication or other therapies. Doctors conduct thorough examinations and tests of persons with migraine headaches in order to rule out truly life-threatening possibilities like tumors or bleeding in the brain.

Not all severe headaches are migraines. Headaches can be warnings of more serious conditions. The following signs (what doctors find) or symptoms (what patients report) are reasons for concern:

  • Headaches associated with other neurological (relating to the brain, spinal cord, or nerves) signs or symptoms (for example, diplopia [seeing double], loss of sensation, weakness, ataxia [clumsiness])
  • Headaches that have an abrupt onset (come on very fast)
  • Headaches that do not go away, especially if they last longer than 72 hours
  • Headaches that first occur after age 55 years
  • Headaches that develop after head injury or major trauma
  • Headaches accompanied by a stiff neck or fever
  • Headaches in a person who does not have a clear family history of migraine headaches
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/24/2014
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