What's causing my sudden headaches?
February 17, 2011 8:14 AM   Subscribe

YANAD - What could be the cause of a recurring headache on the back of my head?

I have a headache that seems to be sudden onset and then in maybe a bit of time it is suddenly gone - I will just notice - oh its gone.

I thought it was due to bending my neck to look down and to the left at my ipad sitting on the shelf of my treadmill. I was doing this for maybe 30-45 min a day for a few weeks. However, I have not done it in a week and still get these pop-up headaches.

I have a history of sinus issues, but this is the back of my head - can you even have a sinus related headache that hits there?

It's been going on maybe a month or a month and a half. I don't seem to be super tired, have any other issues such as blurred vision or illness.

Over the last year or so I occasionally have gotten really dizzy and felt like I was going to pass out, but thats been maybe twice. I have been on a few new medications this year so that is likely the cause of that.

I went to the doctor recently and they basically said take advil or tylenol. But now its a month later and I still have the issue. Should I go back? Or wait another month.

I do spend most of my day looking at a computer screen, for what its worth. I am probably also under increasing stress.
posted by IzzeYum to Health & Fitness (12 answers total)
It could be anything, including an easily treated neck and back posture problem. You should probably get a referral to a neurologist.

You might also like this book. My physical therapist had me buy Treat Your Own Neck by Robin McKenzie.

I don't recommend starting a treatment regimen without talking to your doctor. I will say that I did these exercises and I was surprised at how much they helped ease various aches and pains in the back of my head, neck and upper back.

If you did these gentle exercises on your own, you would find that they are very easy to do. You just sit in a chair or lie down. They make you feel better even if stress reduction is your goal.
posted by vincele at 8:36 AM on February 17, 2011

This issue really needs to be sorted out with a doctor, especially since you say you've had dizziness & nearly passed out on more than one occasion. Those types of symptoms are not to be trifled with; if you don't like the answers you're getting from your current doctor, don't be afraid to consult a different physician.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:39 AM on February 17, 2011

I have a Chiari Malformation. My first and most obvious symptom was headaches at the back/base of my head. Dizziness is also a common symptom. Balance issues are also a common symptom.

There's no way to diagnose it without an MRI. You need to get an MRI. I'm not saying you have a Chiari Malformation, but you could, or you could have any number of other things going on in there. I think you need to go see a neurologist as soon as possible and get an MRI of the head and cervical spine. (My first doctor said just to take advil, too. Sometimes you have to insist.)

Feel free to memail me with any questions. Good luck.
posted by phunniemee at 8:44 AM on February 17, 2011

I get some weird headaches, both migraines and sinus-related. The most common place for me to get a headache is the back of my head, at the base of my skull. Feels like someone hit me with a baseball bat. I've found that even being a little dehydrated exacerbates it. Stress plays a big factor, too.

What works for me is drinking a lot of water and taking an Advil Cold & Sinus plus an ibuprofen. A hot shower is good, too. IANAD/YD, and if you feel that something more is going on, definitely push for an MRI and/or see a neurologist.
posted by noxetlux at 9:06 AM on February 17, 2011

Response by poster: I should add that about two years ago I was getting numbness in my hands and got the typical tests at my GP (pull my hand, track my finger with your eyes, etc). I also went to a neutrologist and they did the eletrical nerve test. Lastly they did an MRI (to rule out MS and such).

None of that turned up anything. I stopped running on the treadmill and went to a chiropractor and the numbness went away. I have since returned to the treadmill in the last year, but only walking fast, no running and have no numbness.

I am guessing most of those tests probably rule out a lot of neurological issues or am I wrong?
posted by IzzeYum at 9:06 AM on February 17, 2011

Intermittent finger and toe numbness/tingling is a symptom of mine, too. I react in completely normal, healthy-person ways to almost all of the standard neurological tests, and only slightly off in the ones I don't react normally to; slightly enough that they were only picked up on by my specialist. Running exacerbates my problems.

Just saying.

Did you get an MRI of your head and cervical spine or brain only?

I think you should go back to a neurologist.
posted by phunniemee at 9:11 AM on February 17, 2011

I am going to start out as I always do in these types of questions by saying that you should not be asking us because, a) most of us are not doctors, b) those of us who are cannot see you and touch you to give a proper work-up, and c) you need a thorough exam to figure out what is going on.

That said....

I'm guessing that you have at least two and maybe three hints in your discussion about lifestyle. Spending a lot of time in front of a monitor requires you to hold your head fairly steady. This creates stress on the neck muscles which can translate to tightness of the muscles of the scalp. Try getting up and walking around for five minutes every hour and loosen up the muscles by rotating your head around as you walk.

Second, holding your head in that awkward position while you are on the treadmill is not helpful. Get a holder for the Ipad so you can look at it directly in front of you, or decide you just don't need to be attached to it during your workout.

Last, have your blood pressure looked into. You can buy an inexpensive monitor that you can use three or four times a day. Keep a record of the readings, taken at roughly the same times each day, and share them with your doctor as you discuss whether there is anything worth a referral.
posted by Old Geezer at 9:49 AM on February 17, 2011

I just wanted to remind you that the research suggests that doctors make mistakes with starting frequency (one study found up to half of all the recommendations by physicians can be wrong, according to the best and latest scientific evidence). Getting a second opinion, consulting a specialist, doing your own research and bringing that along to the physician are ways of tackling this.
posted by dontjumplarry at 10:09 AM on February 17, 2011

Others have mentioned blood pressure - does yours tend to run high? Even if it doesn't, I'd recommend having your potassium, aldosterone, and renin levels checked - these are all pretty simple blood tests.

IANAD, but I was recently diagnosed with primary aldosteronism due to an adrenal adenoma. One of the symptoms for me has been a headache at the back of the head. Dizziness was another symptom, caused by low potassium.

Primary aldosteronism is a fairly rare condition and many doctors don't even remember the couple of hours they spent on it in med school. A lot of patients start out with the headache and dizziness as their first symptoms, and like myself, take years to get diagnosed. So please - go get the blood tests!
posted by chez shoes at 11:08 AM on February 17, 2011

IANAD, but I had some pretty excessively painful headaches due to muscle tension in the back of my neck. I had never had pain like this before, and I basically have to lay in a ball and cry, the pain is so bad. I had an MRI done, and turned up nothing, thankfully. I've had 3 of those in my life, and 1 was enough.

Hopefully it's just muscular. Best of luck.
posted by santaliqueur at 1:32 PM on February 17, 2011

It would probably be useful to track your symptoms. Can you try to keep a diary of your eating, sleeping, medication, caffeine, exercise habits? And then note headaches--what you're doing when you have them, and what helps (or doesn't help) them go away?

Headaches can be a symptom of so many things that this will help your doctor narrow the field.

And yeah, talk to your doctor about it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:39 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would find out if the MRI covered the C-spine and go from there.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 12:22 PM on February 21, 2011

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