When to Go to the Emergency Room for Migraines

When to Go to the Emergency Room for Migraines

It’s common to think that emergency rooms are filled with people who want to saw their legs off or have a tree branch stuck in their chest cavity (cue Grey’s Anatomy). Not to say that these bizarre situations have no chance of happening in real life; there’s always a probability that something may happen.

However, you may be shocked to know the most common reason for emergency room visits are headaches, or more specifically, migraines.

When you think of headaches, you may think of a dull pain in your head that may sometimes be caused by fatigue, hunger, or dehydration. Migraines, however, can be very intense and may result in vomiting and nausea, sensitivities to sound and light, pain, and vertigo. These aren’t your typical headaches that go away on their own. 

Visiting emergency rooms with severe migraine may be discomforting. However, when you experience migraine problems or chronic headaches that do not go away even after treatment, you probably should go to the emergency room. There’s even more reason to if you have experienced any new or unusual symptoms. 

Keep in mind that a serious headache that starts suddenly could mean a stroke. So, having your symptoms checked to rule out a stroke or other issues isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

How do you know, though, when you need to go to the emergency room for a severe migraine? 

  1. When you’re experiencing new symptoms

As stated above, new or unusual symptoms like convulsions, neck stiffness, confusion, double vision or vision loss, muscle weakness or fever, may be concerning. 

Additionally, if you have a disorder that impacts your immune system, are pregnant, have severe life-threatening medical issues like kidney, heart, or liver disease, and are experiencing new symptoms, visiting the ER is necessary. 

The main role of an emergency room is to assess and treat conditions in an urgent manner. The doctor may order diagnostic imaging tests to help rule out an aneurysm or a stroke before moving on to treatment.

  1. When you’ve suffered a migraine that has lasted quite a while

When a headache begins, you may lay down or take some pain meds to help manage the pain, hoping that it’ll die down in a while.

However, if it persists and you are constantly in severe pain (and no over-the-counter pain meds can manage it), you should seek help. A migraine that hinders you from doing anything and lasts a few days to weeks warrants an emergency room visit. 

Doctors in the ER work to ensure that no severe, life-threatening issues are causing the migraine, and while they may not be migraine or headache specialists, they will help decrease your suffering by prescribing stronger medications to help manage the pain. This is, of course, after they rule out any complications or potentially fatal issues. If the doctor discovers that you’re experiencing dehydration, they may administer fluids through an IV.

Apart from this, if you experience frequent migraines, you may need to make a migraine kit for emergencies.

What’s a migraine kit, you may ask?

You may be eloquent and have no problem telling your doctor any issues you may be experiencing or your most recent symptoms. However, what happens if you experience a particularly bad migraine, visit the emergency room and have to explain your symptoms or medical history while in severe pain? This may affect your ability to describe your past or present treatments or symptoms. 

An emergency migraine kit containing all the important information helps you and healthcare providers unfamiliar with your case to assist you without exerting yourself. 

So, what goes into a migraine ER kit?

Start with a binder that contains all relevant and important information, including:

  • Your doctor’s name and contact information

  • A list of your allergies

  • A list of past and current medications

  • Your treatment protocols

Additionally, pack tinted glasses to help obstruct the harsh lighting commonly used in waiting rooms, earplugs for the noise, and a bottle of water, to stay hydrated.

You should also have someone, be it a friend, family member, or your partner, with you in the emergency room. Having them there will not only make you feel better; it’s also practical. They can help you take notes if you cannot and share any information or symptoms you may have experienced. They can also help you get home safely. 


If you’re experiencing a severe migraine, consider seeking help. It is far better to err on the side of caution by visiting an ER rather than taking things lightly and letting a bad situation get worse.