The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. The cause of a headache can be difficult to determine. The doctor will ask about the frequency and pattern of your headaches. To help provide answers, keep a diary of: When your headaches start and endWhat you were doing at the timeWhat you did to try to relieve pain and how effective the treatment wasFamily members with the same conditionTriggers that you are aware ofWhere the pain is located and where it spreads toOther symptoms associated with the pain
Tests to determine the cause of headaches include:
Neurological exam to assess:
Muscle strengthCoordinationReflexesSensationMental statusCranial nerve functionBlood tests—Blood tests may be done to exclude other causes of your headache. These include
blood glucose, a
complete blood count
or infection, as well as other studies to potentially look for evidence of inflammation.
Lumbar puncture—During this procedure, spinal fluid is collected to look for bleeding, infections, or cancer.
The opening pressure may also be measured.
Imaging tests are used to evaluate internal structures for abnormalities. Some tests may use contrast material to make structures easier to see. These may include: X-rays.
CT scanMRI scanNasal endoscopy—A thin, lighted tube with a camera is inserted into the nasal cavity. If needed, tissue samples can be taken for examination under a miroscope.
Headache—frequently asked questions. National Headache Foundation website. Available at:
http://www.headaches.org/headache-faq. Accessed November 7, 2012.
May A. A review of diagnostic and functional imaging in headache.
J Headache Pain.
NINDS headache information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
website. Available at:
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/headache.htm. Updated September 2012. Accessed November 7, 2012.
Sahai-Srivastava S, Desai P, Zheng L. Analysis of headache management in a busy emergency room in the United States.
Last reviewed December 2015 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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