Assessment of acute headache in adults

Last reviewed: 1 Nov 2022
Last updated: 27 Sep 2022

Summary

Differentials

Common

  • Tension headache
  • Migraine
  • Acute sinusitis
  • Otitis media
  • Menstrual headache
  • Medication withdrawal
  • Medication overuse
  • Cervical paraspinal muscle tenderness
  • Dental caries/wisdom tooth impaction
  • Temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ)
  • Acute hydrocephalus
Full details

Uncommon

  • Benign intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri)
  • Brain tumour
  • Hypertensive encephalopathy
  • Eclampsia/pre-eclampsia
  • Pituitary apoplexy
  • Venous sinus thrombosis
  • Epidural haematoma
  • Subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH)
  • Subdural haematoma
  • Meningitis
  • Brain abscess
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Concussive syndrome/trauma
  • Acute mountain sickness/hypoxia
  • Cluster headaches
  • Paroxysmal hemicrania
  • Trigeminal neuralgia
  • Acute angle-closure glaucoma
  • Giant cell arteritis
  • Zika virus infection
  • Chikungunya
  • Dengue fever
  • Stroke
Full details

Contributors

Authors

Meika T. Neblett, MD, MS

Associate Director

Department of Emergency Medicine

Saint Lukes Cornwall Hospital

Newburgh

NY

Disclosures

MTN declares that she has no competing interests.

Peer reviewers

Paul Hamilton, MD

Director

Department of Emergency Medicine

Mount Sinai School of Medicine

New York

NY

Disclosures

PH declares that he has no competing interests.

Sheldon Jacobson, MD, FACP, FACEP

Chairman

Department of Emergency Medicine

Mount Sinai School of Medicine

New York

NY

Disclosures

SJ declares that he has no competing interests.

Eirik Helseth, MD, PhD

Senior Neurosurgeon

Oslo University Hospital

Professor

University of Oslo

Oslo

Norway

Disclosures

EH declares that he has no competing interests.

  • Guidelines

    • Headaches in over 12s: diagnosis and management
    • ACR appropriateness criteria: headache
    Guidelines
  • Patient leaflets

    Migraine

    Meningitis and septicaemia

    More Patient leaflets
  • Videos

    Diagnostic lumbar puncture in adults: animated demonstration

    More videos
  • padlock-lockedLog in or subscribe to access all of BMJ Best Practice

Use of this content is subject to our disclaimer