A headache, along with neck pain, dizziness, and fatigue, can be debilitating. Numerous conditions can cause these symptoms, including migraines, tumors, or even dehydration. Some are relatively benign, while others can be serious or life threatening.
This article explores the potential triggers of headaches with dizziness, fatigue, and neck pain, along with their treatment options. We also outline tips for preventing these symptoms and offer advice on when to see a doctor.
There can be several reasons for a headache with neck pain, dizziness, and fatigue.
A cervical headache, or cervicogenic headache, is a type of long-term or chronic headache due to structural issues with parts of the cervical spine, including the vertebrae, disc, muscle, or spinal cord. The cervical spine is the section of the spine that includes the neck.
Cervical spine damage can occur due to:
- injury resulting from accidents or surgery
- compression fractures
- a herniated disk
- inflammation of the spinal cord
- general neck strain due to posture issues
A cervical headache may cause pain that persists for several days, or the discomfort can come and go. Other possible symptoms include:
A doctor can usually diagnose cervical headaches by examining the neck and assessing the spine using medical imaging techniques.
The treatment will depend on the underlying cause, with options that include:
- pain relievers to ease neck pain and headaches
- physiotherapy to restore function and improve neck movement
- surgery to correct issues with the cervical spine
- nerve blocks to treat specific areas of pain
- increased sensitivity to light or sounds
The exact cause of migraines remains unknown. However, experts believe that the following factors may play a role:
- changes in brain chemicals
- changes to the nerves and blood vessels inside the brain
- genetic factors
Some people report that certain factors can trigger their migraines, which commonly include:
Although there is no cure for migraines, certain treatments can help reduce the symptoms, including:
- sleeping or lying in a dark room during a migraine
- taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen
- taking triptans, which help reverse brain-changes that can trigger migraines
- taking antiemetics to help reduce nausea and vomiting
Gastroenteritis is the medical term for inflammation and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. Viral gastroenteritis (VG) is gastroenteritis that occurs as a result of a viral infection.
Persistent diarrhea and vomiting can also lead to dehydration. This may lead to additional symptoms, such as:
- dizziness when standing up
- dry mouth and throat
- reduced urine
Viral gastroenteritis usually goes away on its own without medical treatment. Until then, people can take medications to control their diarrhea. Examples include loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol).
People can help prevent dehydration by:
- drinking plenty of water and other clear fluids
- drinking low-sugar fruit juices or sports drinks to help replace lost electrolytes
Contact a doctor if symptoms do not improve within a few days.
A small cerebral aneurysm that does not increase in size might not come with any symptoms. However, larger aneurysms may put pressure on the surrounding nerves or brain tissue, which can trigger the following symptoms:
- pain above and behind the eye
- changes in vision
- a dilated pupil in the eye
- paralysis on one side of the face
In some cases, an aneurysm may leak or rupture, which requires emergency medical attention. Symptoms to look out for include:
- a sudden, severe, and intense headache
- blurred or double vision
- sensitivity to light
- stiff neck
- brief or prolonged loss of consciousness
- cardiac arrest
According to the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke (NINDS), not all aneurysms require treatment. In some cases, a doctor may recommend monitoring them for signs of growth.
NINDS recommend people take the following steps to help reduce the risk of a ruptured aneurysm:
Some people may require surgery to reduce or cut off blood supply to the aneurysm.
A stroke is a potentially life threatening condition where the blood supply to part of the brain becomes cut off, which can result in brain cell death. A stroke can occur for the following reasons:
- an artery that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked
- blood vessel within the brain ruptures
A sudden and severe headache can sometimes be a warning sign of stroke, though it is not a common symptom. In a 2015 study, only 49 out of 263 people who experienced a stroke reported a simultaneous headache.
Besides a headache, other possible stroke symptoms include:
- sudden numbness or weakness in a limb, or on one side of the face
- vision problems in one or both eyes
- difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- loss of balance
- lack of coordination
- difficulty walking
A stroke is a medical emergency. Without rapid treatment, it may result in severe brain damage or death. A person who shows signs of a stroke should phone for an ambulance immediately if possible. People should also look out for these symptoms in others and seek emergency medical care if they suspect a stroke.
Stroke treatments depend on the underlying cause. Some possible options include:
- Thrombolytics: Medications can help break up blood clots.
- Endovascular procedure: A procedure where a surgeon guides surgical instruments through a tube inserted into a limb to repair a broken blood vessel.
- Surgical treatment: Involves placing a metal clip around a ruptured blood vessel to reduce further bleeding.
A brain tumor is when a collection of cells within the brain multiply abnormally and uncontrollably.
Doctors classify brain tumors into grades, depending on how fast they grow and how likely they are to grow back after treatment.
Grade 1 and 2 brain tumors are non-cancerous or benign, and slow-growing. Grade 3 and 4 brain tumors are cancerous or malignant. These tumors may originate in the brain or may spread from elsewhere in the body. They are fast-growing and more likely to re-occur following treatment.
Brain tumor symptoms depend partly on the area of the brain that they affect. Some common symptoms include:
- persistent nausea
- drowsiness and fatigue
- progressive weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
- problems with speech, vision, or memory
- changes in personality or behavior
Brain tumor treatments depend on the following factors:
- type, grade, and location of the tumor
- how abnormal the cells are
- how big the tumor is and how far it has spread
- the person’s overall health and fitness
Some possible treatment options include:
Other possible causes of headaches, dizziness, neck pain, and fatigue include dehydration and anxiety.
Dehydration occurs when the body does not have enough water to function properly. This can result in the following symptoms:
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- dry mouth, lips, and eyes
- dark, strong-smelling urine
- reduced urine
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, headaches are a common symptom of anxiety. People with this condition may also experience panic attacks, which can trigger the following physical symptoms:
Cervical headaches indicate that there may be an injury in the cervical spine or surrounding soft tissue.
People who experience them may benefit from the following treatments:
- physical therapy to help regain function
- alternative therapies, such as acupuncture
- medications to alleviate pain
- surgery to address serious injuries
Anyone with severe, persistent, or worsening headaches should see a doctor for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
The acronym SNOOP can help people decide when a headache may be serious, which stands for:
- Systemic symptoms:
- persistent vomiting
- stiff neck
- Neurological symptoms:
- changes in mood, personality, or behavior
- memory problems
- loss of consciousness
- weakness or paralysis
- Onset: New or sudden onset of headaches.
- Other conditions: A headache that develops following another condition or head injury.
- Prior history: If the headache differs from previous headaches, or they get steadily worse, this could signal a serious issue.
It is not possible to prevent all headaches. However, certain strategies can reduce a person’s risk of developing diseases that may trigger them. These include:
- Following a healthful lifestyle: Exercising regularly and eating a healthful and varied diet can lower the risk of stroke, aneurysm, and other life threatening medical conditions.
- Monitoring headaches: People should keep a diary that records when their headaches occur, as well as their duration and intensity. This will allow them to detect possible headache triggers.
- Managing anxiety and stress: Proper anxiety and stress management may help reduce headaches and other symptoms. People can try relaxation techniques, such as:
- Managing underlying medical conditions: It is essential that people tend to any underlying medical issues to reduce the risk of serious complications.
Headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and neck pain can be a worrying combination. Various conditions can cause these symptoms, while some are more serious than others. Potentially life threatening triggers include aneurysms, stroke, and brain tumors.
As headaches can indicate serious health issues, people who experience severe, persistent, or worsening headaches should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Anyone who experiences symptoms of an aneurysm or stroke should seek emergency medical care immediately. Timely treatment can reduce the risk of serious complications, including death.