Should I go to urgent care for this headache?

I have a history of migraines with aura, none in the last year though. I have maybe a couple minor headaches a week at the most these days, and nothing that ibuprofen doesn’t help.

But I just woke up for the second day in a row with a dull, persistent pain in the back lower left side of my skull. I got a good night’s sleep and I changed positions several times over the night (which should have made it go away, at least always has in the past). Ibuprofen isn’t helping. I don’t have an aura and I’m not photosensitive or anything so I don’t think it’s a migraine (I’ve heard they can last 72 hours but I was always fine within 24). My routine has not changed, I’m just doing the same things I always do. Working, sleeping, playing on the computer.

I’ve never woken up with this persistent of a headache before. I don’t feel like I have a tumor or something. I don’t think my head is going to explode, though I don’t LIKE the feeling. It sucks because I don’t feel like anything I do is affecting it. But blah… should I go to the doctor? Feels dumb over something so minor.

They always say you should go if it’s the worst headache of your life. This doesn’t sound like that. If that’s where you usually go for treatment, I’d go, but see if you can get somebody to go with you because they might give you some medication that would affect your vision or balance and you’d need help going home, whether you drive or not.

Have you recently increased or reduced your caffeine consumption?

I’m thinking yes, if only because there’s something so not-normal here that you were inspired to post about it here. Something is telling you that something’s wrong, and that something is best listened to, IME.

Every single time any person ever asks me in any situation, “Do you think this is bad enough to go to the doctor?” my answer is yes. Because clearly something is wrong, it’s not normal, and the worst-case scenario for it being something and you ignoring it is a lot worse than the reverse, if you follow.

A dull headache in the back of the head or neck cod be meningitis or even encephalitis (infection of brain or brain tissue.) Not trying to scare you but my wife had similar headaches and ended up in the ER followed by a four day hospital stay for viral encephalitis. Not easy to diagnose
(spinal tap required to know for sure) but it’s something to keep in mind.

Have you had any other flu-like symptoms? Fatigue? Achiness?

Yeah I wouldn’t categorize it as the worst headache of my life in terms of pain, but it is demonstrably the longest one I’ve ever had, making it the worst in terms of duration. If I wake up tomorrow and it’s still there, I think I’ll go get it looked at.

I don’t have a primary care physician to go to. I wouldn’t say I’m in the pink of health per se, but I’ve been chugging along just fine for years without any “regular” medical care (I don’t really do preventative medicine, and I hate waiting for appointments for all that crap). So it’s urgent care or the emergency room for me.

I’m going to make a suggestion, which is that you find a primary-care guy (or lady) that you trust before you get seriously sick. (Hopefully whatever is going on with you now isn’t serious.)

Trust me on this; few things suck worse than playing “Yellow Pages roulette” to find a doctor when you think there’s something seriously wrong with you.

Well, I would go. There is something unusual about this one, namely the duration. I’d choose the ER over urgent care, but that’s just from personal experience: The first time I had a migraine I went to urgent care, and it was diagnosed as food poisoning because I couldn’t stop throwing up. I had no idea what was happening to me, and when I told the doctor I had eaten fish the day before, that was all he needed to hear. But if you’ve been to a particular urgent care before and know they have good staff, go.

I think you should try some sinus or allergy medicine first. Once I had a headache that lasted for two weeks, and it turned out to be sinus/allergy issues, not a tumah.

Do you wear glasses? I get pain like that sometimes when my glasses get out of alignment and they pinch the spot behind my ears. I’d feel dull throbbing pain at the base of my skull (one side or the other) just like you described.

Do you have a regular doctor (primary care)? Or some doctor who treats your migraines? If so then phone them and talk with the nurse.


There are headaches and there are headaches. As a cautionary tale, I had a three day headache about three years ago that settled in my left occipital region (coincidentally, the same general area you describe). It turned out that it was a symptom of an inflamed facial nerve. If I had gotten antiviral and steroid treatment from the start, it might have shortened 6 months of Bell’s Palsy.

I totally agree with this. Even though you hate dealing with appointments, having someone you can go to who knows your health history and isn’t going to treat you for just the one thing. The ER and urgent care are meant to treat your symptoms now. That means that they’ll only look at the headache and probably immediately causes, but if it turns out to be something that’s interconnected with another issue, your GP is more likely to pick it up, IMHO.

Definitely go to urgent care or whatever, but also definitely get a GP.

Plus, what type of pillow do you sleep on? Have you had back or shoulder pain in the past? You seem to have been under a lot of stress lately - sometimes I get a “stress hangover” that results in a few days’ worth of dull headache. But if yours isn’t going away with standard OTC pain meds and you intuitively feel it’s something more than just a headache, hie thee to a doctor now. You’re the only one living in your body and, unless you have a history of being a hypochondriac, you’ll know your body.

It could be a sinus thing. I’m not ruling that out. I don’t have a history of allergies, but the transition from winter to spring has been making me pretty stuffy lately. I thought sinus headaches would be more of a frontal or nasal-area ache, though.

I attempted to start a primary doctor relationship last year for unrelated-to-this reasons, but she wanted to refer me to a bunch of specialists for ruling-out/diagnostic purposes, and it was getting too expensive and far too much of a hassle. I’d rather go to urgent care once or twice a year than have to go through that crap again.

See, this is what I’m saying. That primary doctor did not work out for you. You should find one that does, before you need a doctor for something serious. That’s just my advice, though. I had a friend with cancer who gave me the same advice years ago, and I’m glad she did.

The problem with relying on Urgent Care and ER (which, I admit, I do too, because I have no insurance) is that they can’t get a whole picture. There are some symptoms, and headaches are one of them, which mean next to nothing in isolation. But if you have a primary doc who knows you were in 6 months ago because your fingers kept falling asleep, and 2 months before that, you had a dizzy spell, and a year before that, you had a UTI that just wouldn’t quit…well, these things may add up to something. There’s almost no way for an individual to keep track of all these things, separated by time and seemingly unrelated body systems. But when it’s down in a paper or computerized chart, organized the way doctors organize things, then patterns may begin to emerge.

It’s kind of like our exams in school, where we’re given vital signs and three symptoms and asked what we’ll do next. We always want to know more, more history, more data, more more more. But we don’t get it, because it’s a standardized test with a three sentence stem and four multiple choice answers. That’s a lot like emergency medicine, and it’s frustrating as hell and not very good for most medical conditions.

It’s not just that you can get cheaper care by going to a primary doc, it’s that you get better, more comprehensive care. I’m not trying to knock Urgent Care/ER docs, they’re awesome. But their focus and training is on making sure you’re not too likely to die in the next 24 hours from whatever your main complaint is when you walk in the door. The fact that you could die in a week from something you didn’t even mention really isn’t their priority.

What types of tests was she trying to refer you to? If it’s blood work for cholesterol screening or diabetes, that’s considered standard - most people should be checked every once in a while to make sure they haven’t developed a chronic condition. Additionally, I’m not sure if you have a weight problem or higher-than-normal blood pressure, but if you do, that could have caused her some concern.

Anyway, I agree with MsWhatsIt - it sounds like you visited someone who didn’t work for you. Find someone else who does. It’s a lot less expensive in the long run, especially if you wind up developing a chronic condition. Many chronic conditions are preventable or at least made far more manageable with good preventive care - diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension especially. But if you wait until you’re really sick to visit the doctor regularly, you could find yourself paying far more in emergency care or dealing with far more severe consequences for longer.

Is the problem insurance? Do you not have any or have too little? Just curious - I can understand the tendency not to get care if you don’t have insurance - it costs an arm and a leg. But speaking as someone who has avoided the potential for severe injury, even death because I sought care from a doctor I trusted when I felt something was wrong with me while I was pregnant, I’m strongly in favor of developing a relationship with a doctor sooner rather than later.

Sorry to digress, but I’m curious… Aren’t you in nursing school? Why don’t they have student health insurance available?

Yes, I am, at one of the City Colleges of Chicago. Health insurance…HA! I’d be happy if the soap dispensers in the bathrooms worked. :wink:

My nephew complained about a horrible headache for several days. Then one day he didn’t show up for work, an unusual occurrence. He was found dead in his apartment the following day. I don’t know the exact cause of death – my sister chose not to share this with me, other than that it was natural causes. So I don’t know if he could have survived if he’d gone to a doctor sooner. I do know that more than one doctor has said they’d much rather see you and discover that your symptoms are not a sign of a serious condition than to have to say, “I could have helped him if he’d gotten to us sooner.”