Diagnosing Your Headache: Headache Evaluation

Why is it important to diagnose a headache?

The correct diagnosis of a headache is necessary in order to begin an effective treatment plan. Early visits to your doctor are made to establish what type or classification of headache you have.

Headache history

The most important part of the headache evaluation is the headache history. It is important to describe your headache symptoms and characteristics as completely as possible. Your headaches can be better diagnosed if you can tell your doctor:

It also helps if you tell your doctor how you feel with the headache and what happens when you get a headache, such as:

History of headache treatments

A history of earlier headache treatments is also an important part of the headache evaluation. Tell your doctor about all of the treatments you’ve had — both prescribed and over-the-counter medications — for your headaches. Tell your doctor what medicines you have taken in the past and what medicines you are currently taking. Bring the bottles to the appointment, or ask your pharmacist for a printout.

Studies performed by other doctors, including X-rays and scans, are very important. Bring these to your appointment as well, since it might save time, and you won’t have to take the tests again.

Physical and neurological examinations

After completing the headache history, the doctor will perform a complete physical and neurological examination. The doctor will look for signs and symptoms of an illness that might be causing the headaches, such as:

Neurological tests focus on ruling out diseases that might also cause headaches, such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and other cerebrovascular diseases. A disorder of the central nervous system might be suspected in the development of serious headaches. These include:

Psychological evaluation

An interview with a psychologist is not a routine part of a headache evaluation, but it might be done to identify stress factors that can cause your headaches. Patients are usually asked to complete computerized questionnaires in order to provide more in-depth information.

Diagnostic tests

Additional diagnostic tests might be needed to rule out other medical conditions. These tests are listed below. Keep in mind that laboratory tests are not helpful in diagnosing migraine, cluster, or tension-type headaches.

An EEG, or electroencephalogram, is not a standard part of a headache evaluation.

Conclusion

After evaluating the results of the headache history, physical examination, neurological and psychological examination, your doctor should be able to determine what type of headache you have, whether or not a serious problem is present, and whether other tests are needed.

References

 

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit www.clevelandclinic.org/health/ or www.clevelandclinicflorida.org. This document was last reviewed on:

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