A headache diagnosis is usually made through a detailed question-and-answer session with the patient. This is combined with a complete and careful physical and neurological examination. Together, the history and physical will exclude many of the less common but potentially serious causes of headaches. In some cases, tests such as an MRI or CT scan may also be recommended in order to help diagnose the cause of headaches.
An Overview of Diagnosing HeadachesIn order to figure out the cause of headaches, a healthcare provider will begin by asking a number of questions, including questions about:
- The headache, such as how often you have headaches or where the pain is
- Other symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, vision or hearing problems, weight loss, a fever or chills, a runny nose, tearing, or shortness of breath
- Possible triggers
- Conditions that make the headache better
- Any symptoms that might occur before the headache begins
- Any medical conditions you may have, including high blood pressure (hypertension), glaucoma, or shingles
- A family history of headaches
- Any personal history of headaches
- Whether you smoke or drink alcohol.
Most healthcare providers will also obtain a full medical history from the patient, inquiring about past head trauma or surgery, eye strain, sinus problems, dental problems, difficulties with opening and closing the jaw, and the use of medications.
He or she will then perform a physical exam, looking for any signs that may point to possible causes of the headaches (see Causes of Headaches).
Experts agree that a detailed question-and-answer session with a patient, along with a physical exam, can often produce enough information for a headache diagnosis. Many types of headaches have clear-cut symptoms which fall into an easily recognizable pattern.