How is a migraine diagnosed?

Gathering details about the headaches is the key to making the diagnosis. The headache history should be obtained from both the patient and his or her parents.

The history includes a description of current and previous headaches – specifically, how the patient feels before, during, and after the headache. Information on how often the headaches occur, how long they last, and any other symptoms are also collected. The names of medications taken in the past, current medications, and names of medications that have worked the best are also gathered.

After taking the medical history, your doctor will perform a physical and neurological examination. The exam is usually normal. Sometimes additional tests are needed, such as additional lab work, CT or MRI scan. In typical patients with migraine, no additional tests are needed. Based on all the information collected, your doctor can determine the type and cause of the headaches.

Patients with complicated migraine with neurological symptoms require a more thorough neurological exam, more laboratory tests, and imaging scans. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and MRA (magnetic resonance imaging of the arteries) scans allow the tissues and arteries within the brain to be seen and evaluated. Most patients with complicated migraine recover completely. A structural problem, such as a brain tumor, is rarely found.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/25/2017.

References

  • Cleves C, Rothner AD. Headache in Children and Adolescents: Evaluation and Diagnosis, including Migraine and its Subtypes. Chapter 6. In: Tepper SJ, Tepper DE, eds. The Cleveland Clinic Manual of Headache Therapy. New York: Springer 2011:81-92.
  • Cleves C, Rothner AD. Diagnosis of Childhood Periodic Syndromes, Tension-Type Headaches, and Daily Headache Syndromes. Chapter 7. In: Tepper SJ, Tepper DE, eds. The Cleveland Clinic Manual of Headache Therapy. New York: Springer 2011:93-103.
  • Rothner AD. Treatment of Pediatric and Adolescent Headaches. Chapter 15. In: Tepper SJ, Tepper DE, eds. The Cleveland Clinic Manual of Headache Therapy. New York: Springer 2011:209-24.
  • National Headache Foundation. Migraine. Accessed 3/27/2017.
  • American Migraine Foundation. Migraine in Children. Accessed 04/26/2019.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy