This article is intended to assist clinicians in distinguishing benign primary headache syndromes from serious headache presentations that arise from exogenous causes.
Although most cases of severe headache are benign, it is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of potentially life-threatening conditions. Patients with primary headache disorders can also acquire secondary conditions that may present as a change in their baseline headache patterns and characteristics. Clinical clues in the history and examination can help guide the diagnosis and management of secondary headache disorders. Furthermore, advances in the understanding of basic mechanisms of headache may offer insight into the proposed pathophysiology of secondary headaches.
Several structural, vascular, infectious, inflammatory, and traumatic causes of headache are highlighted. Careful history taking and examination can enable prompt identification and treatment of underlying serious medical disorders causing secondary headache syndromes.