Of all symptoms, headaches are among the hardest to deal with. Because they’re very common, people have a tendency to dismiss them. Dismissing headaches too often can mean missing a dangerous, even deadly condition. But if you take every headache too seriously, you can end up spending most days in the hospital.
Your doctor is the best resource to help you figure out how to respond to headaches. And it’s probably best to err on the side of caution. But if you’re looking for a simple guide to help you make the decision, try SNOOP. SNOOP is a simple acronym that you can use to decide whether your headache needs emergency care.
S-Systemic Symptoms and Risk Factors
Primary headaches–those that occur spontaneously without link to other conditions–are less likely to need emergency care. However, if your headache is accompanied by symptoms and risk factors related to other illness, they might need attention. If you have muscle pain, muscle weakness, weight loss, or fever associated with your headaches, you should seek professional care. You should also see your doctor if you have risk factors like an HIV infection or current cancer.
N-Neurological Signs or Symptoms
If your headache is more than just pain, it’s more likely to need professional care. One important warning sign is cognitive difficulties or loss of nerve function. Common examples include Memory loss, speech difficulties, vision loss, and inability to control your muscles. If you experience any of these, contact your doctor or seek emergency care.
Onset refers to the cause of your headache and how quickly it occurs. In general, the faster a headache comes on, the greater the concern. You should also seek emergency care for headaches triggered by exertion, coughing, or sex.
O-Older Age of Onset
The older you are when you start experiencing a type of headache, the greater the concern, generally. If you’re over 50 and you start experiencing a type of headache you’ve never had before, seek emergency care.
Keep your current headache in context with previous headaches. If the current headache is like others you’ve had before, it’s less of a concern. On the other hand, if your current headache is much worse, happens more frequently, comes on faster, or is associated with new symptoms, then it’s a good idea to get professional treatment, possibly at the emergency room.
Even If It’s Not an Emergency
A headache does not have to be an emergency to warrant professional care. Even if you don’t go to the emergency room, it might be time to talk to someone about your headaches.
But what if you have already talked to your doctor and they’ve said they can’t help you. This isn’t uncommon. Many headaches just don’t respond to the types of treatments your doctor gives, and may not respond to specialized care, either.
If the treatments your doctor recommends aren’t helping, it may be time to look for another kind of care.