What to Expect during the First Visit to
a Doctor for Headache Diagnosis

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


Get ready for your first visit to a doctor -- your primary care physician or a headache specialist -- by recalling as much as you can about your headaches. When keeping a headache diary, describe each headache according to:

  • Date of every headache
  • Time of day headache occurs
  • Do the headaches occur during your menstrual cycle
  • Type of pain: dull, aching, throbbing, piercing, squeezing, or excruciating
  • Other symptoms accompanying headache, possibly including: nausea, vomiting, dizziness, head/neck muscles contracting, senses (eyesight, hearing or touch) affected
  • Location of pain: one side of head, both sides of head, front or back of head, over or behind one eye
  • How long do the headaches last? Hours, days?
  • Do you take over-the-counter medications for your headaches? Did another doctor prescribe a medication? Does it work and for how long?
  • Do you take any natural remedies or herbs?
  • Where were you when the headache occurred: home, office, shopping, etc.?
  • Do the headaches occur during sexual activity?
  • Were you under stress when the headache occurred?
  • What was the weather like when the headache occurred?
  • Were you exposed to odors (e.g., perfume, chemicals) or smoke?
  • Had you eaten a meal or snack recently, or had you missed a meal?
  • Were you exercising or physically strained?
  • Did you fall, bump your head, or suffer a head trauma?
  • What are your sleeping patterns?
  • If you had eaten, what foods did you eat or what beverages did you drink (within last 24 hours)?
  • Is there a history of headaches in your family?

In addition to a headache history and any diagnostic studies that were performed by a previous doctor, your headache specialist will want a general medical history. This will start with information from you:

  • Besides the headaches, do you have other medical disorders or conditions?
  • What is your family's medical history?
  • In addition to the medications you have taken for the headaches, do you take any other medications?

Tests That Your Doctor May Ask For
After your doctor has established your headache and medical history, he or she will require diagnostic tests. They could include:

Blood Chemistry and Urinalysis
These tests may determine many medical conditions, including thyroid problems and infections, which can precipitate headaches.

CT Scan (computerized tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
The CT or brain scan reveals sinus problems, tumors or strokes. Although it is more costly than the CT Scan, the MRI does not use iodine containing contrast dye and may be more definitive in picking up problems in the head or brain. These scans can reveal skull fractures, malignant diseases, sinus problems, concussions, hematomas and other possible medical problems.

Lumbar Puncture or Spinal Tap
This test is used only if the symptoms warrant it, and it can cause a headache for a few hours afterward.

Sinus X-Ray
Although the CT Scan and MRI provide more details, your physician may use this test if your symptoms seem to point to sinus.

Neurological and Ophthalmology Tests
Neurological tests focus on such diseases as epilepsy and other neurological diseases, while an eye pressure test will rule out glaucoma.

Help for Your Headache
With so many types of headache and the variety of symptoms among individual sufferers, seeing a doctor and perhaps a headache specialist is often the only way to deal with persistent and painful headaches. Help is available and treatment options are increasing dramatically, but in the end, only you can take control of your headache. We urge you to be active and fight for a headache-free life. National Headache Foundation is here to help. Join us in the fight against this debilitating disease.

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