When to Seek Urgent Care for Headaches

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Headaches can get in the way of your busy lifestyle. When one strikes, you may be tempted to skip an urgent care visit, hoping it’ll go away on its own. But some headaches need medical attention. Loras Even, DO, UnityPoint Health explains.

When Should I See a Doctor for My Headache?

“You should see a doctor anytime a headache is interfering with your ability to perform daily activities,” says Dr. Even.

The quickest way to access care is by visiting an urgent care clinic. An urgent care doctor can help you find relief and let you know if your symptoms indicate the headache is a sign of something more serious.

Types of Headaches Treated at Urgent Care

Types of headaches frequently seen in urgent care include:

  • Tension headache (most common). Pain or pressure behind the eyes or in the neck
  • Medication overuse headache. Head pain from taking headache medications too often
  • Migraine. A neurological condition causing intense head pain making it hard to go about your day
  • Ongoing (chronic) headache. Head pain that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter medications
  • Secondary headache. Headache due to other medical conditions, such as an ear infection, the flu, high blood pressure and more
  • Sinus headache: Pressure near the eyes, cheeks or forehead

How Can a Doctor Help Me?

“Head pain can have many causes. Even if you think you know why you’re having headaches, seeing a doctor can help you get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment,” Dr. Even explains.

There are more than 150 types of headaches and many types of treatment. When you see a doctor, they perform a thorough evaluation to determine which type it is. This assessment helps determine which therapies will help you find relief. The right treatment may lower your risk of future headaches.

What About Concussions?

A concussion is a brain injury that occurs after a blow to the head, neck or body. You may experience nagging head pain if you have a concussion.

“You can have a concussion if you didn’t lose consciousness or after a seemingly minor head injury,” says Dr. Even.

It’s important to see a doctor for a possible concussion, because symptoms can last for days, sometimes weeks. Trying to go about your regular activities after a concussion can cause headaches that won’t quit. A doctor can determine how severe the concussion is and when it’s safe to resume regular activities.

When Should I Be Concerned About a Headache?

Sometimes a headache can be a sign of a more severe medical condition, such as a brain infection. It’s especially important to see a doctor if your head pain is accompanied by:

If it’s the worst head pain you’ve ever experienced, it could be a stroke. This is a medical emergency requiring immediate care. Call 911. Don't attempt to drive yourself to the hospital.

Preparing for Your Urgent Care Visit

Tests aren't usually necessary to diagnose headaches. Instead, the doctor performs a physical exam and asks about your medical history. They may discuss your lifestyle, such as sleep habits, stress levels and diet.

They’ll also want to know:

  • What your headaches feel like 
  • When the pain started
  • If you're taking medications for them and how often
  • How headaches affect your daily life
  • Whether you have a family history of headaches

Easy Access to Headache Care at UnityPoint Health

When a headache strikes, UnityPoint Health makes it easy to fit care into your busy schedule.

Our walk-in care locations accept walk-in patients for nonemergency situations. Experienced medical staff is available during the day, in the evenings and on holidays. Reduce your time in the waiting room by saving a spot online. Patients ages two and up who live in Iowa can use our virtual urgent care or SmartExam services to see a provider without having to leave home. Just log into our patient app, MyUnityPoint, to get started.