Headaches: recognizing a serious cause

Headache is one of the most frequent medical complaints with an estimated 95% of the general population experiencing it at some stage in their lifetime, and 90% of people experiencing it per year (Latinovic, 2006). Although serious causes of headache are fairly uncommon, their recognition is important as the vast majority can be treated. They usually present in the acute setting to accident and emergency and acute assessment units. A considerable proportion of acute headaches are benign and patients seek medical attention because of an underlying concern of brain tumour or haemorrhage. Symptoms that indicate a high risk of a serious underlying pathology, or ‘red flags’, may enable clinicians to differentiate those in need of urgent medical attention.

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