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Migraine and Emergency Room - ER

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: November 2010

Migraines are usually not considered a life-threatening disorder. However, because there is no definitive diagnostic test to confirm migraines, it is important to monitor migraine symptoms to ensure that they are not caused by another more serious illness. Also migraine sufferers are more likely to also have seizures and are at higher risk of stroke and transient ischemic attack, also called TIA or mini stroke. Therefore there are some cases that call for a trip to the emergency room of a hospital for a migraine.

How often do people visit the emergency room/ER because of a migraine?

Studies estimate that somewhere between 1 percent and 4 percent of all emergency room visits are because of head pain. In the U.S. about 2.8 million emergency room visits each year are blamed on head pain, of those roughly 800,000 are due to migraines. People who suffer from migraines are four times more likely to take a trip to the ER than those who don’t have migraines.

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A 2009 study of 7,000 people found that when the temperature gets dramatically hotter, more people visit the emergency room for migraines, giving credibility to the notion that some migraines are weather related.

Call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room/ER immediately if

  • You have never experienced migraines before and suddenly have a migraine attack
  • You experience slurred speech, confusion, memory loss, sudden vision changes, loss of balance, problems moving your arms and legs
  • You experience fever, stiff neck and migraine
  • The head pain was caused by a head injury
  • The pain and symptoms are unlike any previous migraine attack
  • The head pain strikes abruptly
  • The attack’s pain is concentrated on one eye and that eye is red
  • The pain is the worst you’ve ever experienced
  • The head pain worsens continuously for more than 24 hours
  • You are older than 50 and the head pain or migraine attacks have just begun, particularly if the attacks come with vision problems
  • You have cancer and you experience a new headache

Recording information about your migraine attacks in your migraine journal will help you determine if an attack has different characteristics than previous migraines. Having the details of previous migraine attacks handy, will help you determine if you need to go to the emergency room/ER. The data in your migraine journal will also assist doctors in diagnosing what is causing your discomfort.