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:

  • How old you were when the headaches started
  • How long you have been experiencing them
  • If you experience a single type of headache or multiple types of headaches
  • How often do the headaches occur
  • What causes the headaches, if known (For example, do certain situations, foods, or medicines usually cause the headaches?)
  • Who else in your family has headaches
  • What symptoms, if any, occur between headaches
  • If your school or work performance has been affected by the headaches
  • If physical activity makes the pain worse
  • What events are associated with the headache

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

  • Where the pain is located
  • What it feels like
  • How severe the headache pain is, using a scale from 1 (mild) to 10 (severe)
  • How long the headaches last
  • If the headaches appear suddenly without warning or with accompanying symptoms
  • What time of day the headaches usually occur
  • If there is an aura (changes in vision, blind spots, or bright lights) before the headache
  • What other symptoms or warning signs occur with a headache (such as weakness, nausea, sensitivity to light or noise, appetite changes, changes in attitude or behavior)
  • How often you get headaches

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.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/18/2014.


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