Is a headache just a nuisance, or something more serious?

If you suffer from occasional headaches, you know they can come out of nowhere and really throw you for a loop.

But how do you know it’s not something more serious?

Maybe you should you get a CAT scan or MRI — you know, just to be on the safe side.

Well, experts say that’s a really bad idea.

Most times, a headache is just that — a headache. It can be due to tension, the stress of a job, grinding your teeth at night, or maybe just that noisy leaf blower outside your window.

As for getting a brain scan, experts say it’s usually unnecessary. But what it will do is give you an extra dose of radiation. It can also result in a false positive, leading to more unnecessary, invasive tests.

Guidelines discourage doctors from performing brain scans for headaches. But a research team from the University of Michigan has found that Americans get about a billion dollars’ worth of such scans every year for no other reason than a common headache.

The study’s leader, neurology professor Dr. Brian Callaghan, calls that number “incredible.”

“Most headaches are not caused by something bad. Even people with brain tumors rarely have headaches.” Callaghan told NPR.

So when should you worry? Experts warn it could be a more serious issue if a headache comes with fever, vomiting, loss of coordination, or a change in vision, speech or alertness.

Sources:

“Yes, it’s a headache. No, you don’t need a brain scan” Nancy Shute, March 18, 2014, NPR, npr.org