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Migraines: Seven signs that signal your headache could be life-threatening – expert advice

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In the UK, it is estimated that migraines result in the loss of 25 million work or school days a year, at an economic cost of £2.3 billion. Treatments for the condition are limited, as scientists have yet to determine which parts of the brain to target. What’s more, the study of migraines has proven complicated due to the sporadic nature of symptoms which last for days. caught up with GP doctor Ross Perry, medical Director of Cosmedics, who explained which red flags for recognising that a headache is potentially life-threatening.

Doctor Perry explained: “There are lots of different types of headaches such as Migraines, allergy sinus headaches, hormone headaches, caffeine headaches, post-traumatic headaches, rebound headaches and hypertension headaches.

“Most of us will suffer from at least one or more of the above once in a while.

“Migraines are a certain type of headache that can cause mild to severe headaches that typically affect one side of the head and can affect your vision and make you feel sick.

“They are often typified by affecting one side of the head and causing nausea, visual changes such as flashing lights or tunnel vision that is short lived and an aura.”

READ MORE: Can you cure migraines? 7 natural remedies for migraines

Concerns about headaches have picked up significantly since the condition was officially recognised as a symptom of COVID-19.

Though patients regularly present to emergency departments seeking relief from migraines that cause significant pain, 90 percent of cases are considered benign.

Warning signs

The vast majority of headaches are considered “primary” headaches, which in medical terms means the condition isn’t linked to an underlying condition.

However, health bodies stress that it is crucial to identify the remaining 10 percent of headache patients in danger of having a life-threatening disorder.

Headaches which are life-threatening will usually be accompanied by other signs, six of which should ring alarm bells.

Dr Perry explained: “You need to seek medical attention immediately if you have any of the following symptoms alongside your headache; stiff neck, slurred speech, confusion, vomiting, fever of more than 38C, visual loss, and paralysis.

“It’s important to see a GP if your headache keeps coming back and if painkillers do not help and your headache gets worse.”

Although secondary headaches are rare, they require prompt diagnosis and treatment, as delays can have a mortality rate approaching 50 percent.

It had previously been believed that the common complaint was a psychosomatic condition, resulting from an inability to cope with stress.

One Harvard Professor suggested that migraines resulted from an interaction between the trigeminal nerve, which detects sensations from the head and face nerve and pain-sensitive membranes that surround the brain.

Dr Perry noted: “Migraines are caused by the spasm of blood vessels in the brain/neck area. The cause for this is unknown but often made worse with stress, alcohol and dehydration but can occur for no reason whatsoever.

“Treatments are mainly aimed at prevention using tablets to help stop the onset of the migraine as once it sets in the only treatment is the to use analysis and rest in a dark room if they are severe.”


There are a few common culprits to avoid in order to ward off the painful condition, but some triggers are arguably more important than others, notably dehydration, stress and alcohol.

Dr Perry explained: “To prevent them you need to recognise if they are about to occur and take preventive medication. Also to keep healthy plenty of fluids and not to overdo stress and alcohol.

“There are certain things which can help the onset and severity such as making sure you’re hydrated and drinking plenty of water and taking regular exercise can also help relieve migraines triggered by hormones.

Try to keep stress levels down with breathing exercises or doing some yoga.”

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