When to See a Doctor for Your Headaches

Information to Know Before Your Visit

To determine the type and cause of your headaches, your doctor will take a complete medical history and ask detailed questions about your headaches. Before your appointment, consider the following:

  • How often do you experience headaches? What kind of pain accompanies your headaches?
  • Where are the headaches located and what words describe your headaches (piercing, splitting, pounding, blinding, throbbing)?
  • What triggers your headaches — certain foods, hormonal factors (menstruation in women), stress, environmental factors (certain weather patterns)?
  • Do you experience any other symptoms before onset of a headache, such as dizziness, sensitivity to light or vomiting?
  • What, if anything, provides relief during these headaches? Do you lie down in a dark room, or do you keep moving? Do you use over the counter pain medication, and is it helpful?
  • What kind of medications do you take? It is important for your healthcare provider to know all of the medications you take, both prescription, over-the-counter, or any herbal supplements. Take a complete list of your medications with you and be sure to include everything, even if you think it is unrelated to your headaches, including such substances as birth control pills, vitamins, antacids, or anti-depressants.

It is not necessary to see a headache specialist for your first visit, although you may be referred to one. Start with an appointment with your general practitioner. Be prepared for the following at this appointment:

  • Your physician will take a detailed personal and medical history from you, including medical history of family members. At this time you will share your headache diary, triggers and list of medications with the physician.
  • Your physician will also perform a physical examination. In addition to examining your head and neck, your doctor will ask you to perform simple reflex, coordination and sensation tests.
  • If a physical examination indicates there may be serious complications, more extensive tests may be performed, such as a neck x-ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or a CT (computed tomography). These tests can reveal any spinal disorders and may rule out any brain disorders, including a brain tumor.

To locate a primary care physician or a neurologist, our Physician Report Card area allows you to search medical specialties by name, zip code or city.

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