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Acute Headache, Ambulatory Care

An acute headache

is pain or discomfort that starts suddenly and gets worse quickly. The cause of an acute headache may not be known. It may be triggered by stress, fatigue, hormones, food, or trauma.

Common related symptoms include the following:

  • Fever
  • Sinus pressure
  • Loss of memory
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Problems with your vision, such as watery or red eyes, loss of vision, or pain in bright light
  • Stiff neck
  • Tenderness of the head and neck area
  • Trouble staying awake, or being less alert than usual
  • Weakness or less energy

Seek immediate care for the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain
  • A headache that occurs after a blow to the head, a fall, or other trauma
  • Confusion or forgetfulness
  • Numbness on one side of your face or body

Treatment for an acute headache

may include medicine to decrease pain. You may also need biofeedback or cognitive behavioral therapy. Ask your healthcare provider about these and other treatments for an acute headache.

Manage my symptoms:

  • Apply heat on your head for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. You may alternate heat and ice.
  • Apply ice on your head for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps decrease pain.
  • Relax your muscles. Lie down in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Relax your muscles slowly. Start at your toes and work your way up your body.
  • Keep a record of your headaches. Write down when your headaches start and stop. Include your symptoms and what you were doing when the headache began. Record what you ate or drank for 24 hours before the headache started. Describe the pain and where it hurts. Keep track of what you did to treat your headache and whether it worked.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Bring your headache record with you when you see your healthcare provider. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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