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Chronic headaches should be looked into

18 August 2008

BERLIN – Headaches are sometimes caused by a life-threatening condition or disease.

"A person who suffers from headaches that get increasingly worse with no apparent cause should see a doctor," said Selcuk Bas, a doctor at Germany’s pain centre in Berlin, in an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Certain symptoms that occur in special circumstances indicate serious illnesses of the brain such as a tumour. When headaches are combined with vision problems, numbness in the extremities, paralysis or speech and language dysfunction, the affected person should be examined.

Usually the doctor can isolate the cause of the headaches by asking targeted questions about work and lifestyle, said Bas.

Afterwards, the patient usually undergoes a physical examination in which the patient’s reflexes and nervous system are tested to rule out indications of a cerebral infarct.

In the next step it can be important to have the eyes, throat, nose, ears and inner organs examined. If anything is questionable, further tests should be done such as a computer tomography (CT) of the head. Bas said he didn’t want to stoke patients’ fears.

"Most people suffer from tension headaches," he said. The causes of such headaches are both multiple and commonplace, taking in everything from stress, blockage of the neck vertebrae or overworked eyes. "When the pain doesn’t fit into a standard scheme, it raises suspicion." In such cases a doctor must go through a step-by-step process of elimination until the source is found.

Bas advises people affected by chronic headaches not to postpone being examined.

"If a patient is not happy with a diagnosis, he should seek a second opinion from a neurologist." said Bas. Putting a doctor under pressure because he will not prescribe a CT will not achieve anything. Most CTs result in an all-clear. Despite this, Bas recommends doing whatever it takes to have a serious illness of the brain ruled out.

[dpa / Expatica]