Symptom: Headache

Initial Grading Reminder

Grade 1: Mild pain
Grade 2: Moderate pain; limiting instrumental ADLs
Grade 3: Severe pain; limiting self-care ADLs

Assessment and Grading

Characterize the symptom (onset, pace)

Ask the patient:

Have you had headaches in the past? Is the melanoma known to be in your brain? Is this a new or worsening symptom? When did it start or get worse? Is it a new or worsening headache? Has it developed gradually or suddenly?

Grade the symptom

Ask the patient:

How bad is your headache? How is it affecting your life? Does anything give you relief?

Patient Query Regarding Other Symptoms/Red Flags

Ask the patient:

Is this the worse headache you ever had in your life? Do you have a fever, neck pain or stiffness, a rash or any vision changes? Have you had any hallucinations? Do you have any nausea/vomiting or extreme fatigue?

Patient Factors to Consider That Affect the Approach to Intervention

Consider the following in individualizing the intervention: Is the patient a good or poor historian? Any language barriers or cognitive deficits? Is the patient reliable (able to carry out treatment recommendations)? Does this patient have alcohol/substance abuse issues? Does the patient have transportation? Is there sufficient caregiver support?

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    Suggested Intervention

    Patients with new-onset moderate or worse (or worsening) headache should be seen. Patients with any of the red-flag symptoms should be seen immediately.

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    Nursing Assessment of Potential Causes

    Hypophysitis - Nursing Assessment

    • Look
    • Listen
    • Recognize
    • Look
    • Listen
    • Recognize
    • Look
    • Listen
    • Recognize
    • Does the patient appear fatigued?
    • Does the patient look listless?
    • Does the patient look ill?
    • Does the patient look uncomfortable?
    • Does the patient report:
      • Change in energy?
      • Headache?
      • Dizziness?
      • Nausea/vomiting?
      • Altered mental status?
      • Visual disturbances?
      • Fever?
    • Low levels of hormones produced by pituitary gland (ACTH, TSH, FSH, LH, GH, prolactin)
    • Brain MRI with pituitary cuts: enhancement and swelling of the pituitary gland
    • DDX adrenal insufficiency: low cortisol and high ACTH
    • DDX primary hypothyroidism: low free T4 and high TSH

    Nephritis - Nursing Assessment

    • Look
    • Listen
    • Recognize
    • Look
    • Listen
    • Recognize
    • Look
    • Listen
    • Recognize
    • Does the patient appear uncomfortable?
    • Does the patient look ill?
    • Has there been change in urination?
      • Urine color?
      • Frequency?
    • How much fluid is the patient taking in?
    • Are associated symptoms present?
      • Nausea?
      • Headache?
      • Malaise?
      • Lung edema?
    • Are there symptoms indicative of:
      • Urinary tract infection?
      • Pyelonephritis?
      • Worsening CHF?
    • Are symptoms limiting ADLs?
    • Current or recent use of nephrotoxic medications (prescribed and OTC), other agents?
      • NSAIDs
      • Antibiotics
      • Contrast media or other nephrotoxic agents (contrast dye, aminoglycosides, PPI)?
    • Laboratory abnormalities (elevated creatinine, electrolyte abnormalities)
    • Urinalysis abnormalities (casts)
    • Abdominal or pelvic disease that could be causing symptoms
    • Prior history of renal compromise?
    • Other immune-related adverse effects?
    • Presence of current or prior immune-mediated toxicities, including rhabdomyolysis
    • Is patient volume depleted?

    Encephalopathy - Nursing Assessment

    • Look
    • Listen
    • Recognize
    • Look
    • Listen
    • Recognize
    • Look
    • Listen
    • Recognize
    • Does the patient look uncomfortable?
    • Does the patient look ill?
    • Does the patient report headache, fever, tiredness, sleepiness, hallucinations, stiff neck?
    • Signs of infectious cause (lumbar puncture); Obtain brain MRI; Consult neurologist

    Differential Diagnosis

    What do you suspect is the cause of the headache?