Sharp shooting headaches
Hamid Mortazavi, MD is a neurologist at Banner Baywood Medical Center. His office can be reached at (480) 543-6880.
Question: I regularly get sharp shooting headaches that come out of the blue, last a few minutes and then vanish. Is this normal and what should I do about it?
Answer: Let me start by saying that headaches are never “normal” and should always be taken seriously. In many ways, they serve as a built-in warning that the body is overtaxed or that another more serious health condition may be looming.
Unlike a migraine, which is generally a benign condition lasting at least three hours and that could be associated with or without nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to light, noise and smell, the recurrent sharp shooting pain you describe is usually triggered by stress, lesions in the brain or increased pressure in the brain. New lesions in the brain, such as masses or vascular malformations, can occur on their own.
While these short, sudden headaches may be associated with stress and sometimes classified as tension headaches, they may also be a sign of something more serious. In fact, these types of headaches have been reported among individuals who were found to have vascular aneurysms, brain tumors, and a benign condition known as hemicrania continua, which is controlled through medication, and more.
A basic neurological workup can determine whether there is a physical or biological reason for your headaches. The assessment may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), which is a type of MRI used to evaluate arteries in the body, including the brain.
Once test results rule out the presence of a serious medical condition, the next step is to assess environmental and lifestyle factors that may be triggering the headaches.
Tension headaches, which share some of the symptoms you describe, are generally brought about by stress. In most cases, lifestyle changes including diet, exercise and reduced stress provide relief.
Speak with a neurologist to ensure your headaches aren’t an indication of something more serious and to help determine how to prevent them.