How Do I Choose a Doctor for Headache Care?

Different Type of Headaches
Headache Types
Headache and Children
How Do I Choose
What to Expect?


If you suffer from headaches, you have probably received a great deal of sympathy and advice from friends and relatives. Although millions of people seek medical attention every year due to headache pain, even more might benefit from a trip to the doctor.

You should seek immediate medical attention if:

  • Your headaches (the pain and duration) have gotten worse over days and weeks.
  • You (particularly if you are over 50) have never had headaches before, and these came on suddenly.
  • You are feeling weak, you are experiencing a numbness or a change in your hearing or sight.
  • Your headache is unrelenting, and none of the over-the-counter analgesics you have taken seem to relieve the pain.
  • Your memory, personality or cognitive abilities seem to be changing.
  • Your headache is accompanied by a stiff neck, rash, nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing problems, or head injury.

    When seeking treatment for your headache, start with your primary care physician. Discuss his or her experience and approach to headaches, including methods of classification, diagnosis, and treatment.

    - Ask about his or her experience in treating headaches and the approach that will be taken in treating yours.
    - Ask how much time you should allow before expecting results.
    - Ask your physician if you should be referred to a headache clinic or headache specialist.

    A referral to a headache clinic or specialist should occur if:

    Your physician seems to dismiss or minimize your headache pain, and says something such as, "The headache is probably due to stress at the office," or "Women get a lot of headaches, and it's probably just hormones."

    Your physician does not take the time to discuss your history and answer your questions.

    Your physician immediately suggests a pain medication without first trying a medication that would address the underlying condition or pain mechanism.

    Physical examination does not establish a headache diagnosis (e.g., migraine).

    You have other physical conditions (e.g., diabetes, allergies, etc.), and you need a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to your headache.

    You are taking daily analgesics.

    Headache Clinics and Specialists In evaluating the "whole you," a headache clinic takes a multi-disciplinary approach to headache diagnosis and treatment. Its comprehensive team may include physicians (internists and neurologists), psychologists, physical and behavioral therapists, and nurses — all of whom specialize in headache care.

    Before deciding on a particular headache specialist, make sure he or she has:

  • Board Certification or eligibility in a primary medical specialty.
  • Interest in headache care as indicated by membership in the National Headache Foundation and/or the American Association for the Study of Headache.
  • Experience in headache care as evidenced by the dedication of a significant portion of clinical practice to diagnosis and treatment.
  • Expertise in headache care as exemplified in research, writing or teaching.
  • Attendance at Continuing Medical Education courses focusing on headache.

    Ask the clinic or specialist about fees and whether your insurance or medical plan covers treatment. Inquire about diagnosis and treatment time, and be prepared to cooperate over weeks or months as you work toward the optimal solution to your headaches.

    The National Headache Foundation will provide, upon request, a list of NHF physician members in your state.

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    Learn more about:

    Tension-Type Headache

    Migraine Headache

    Cluster Headache

    Other Types of Headache


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