Migraine Headache Diagnosis: The Steps Your Doctor Will Take

Quincy AdamMigraine Lifestyle

Doctor with patient
Migraines include a myriad of symptoms that manifest themselves differently from one sufferer to the next. Also, those symptoms tend to vary over time. People may have periods during which they experience a lot of migraines and need continuous treatment followed by long stretches when all is calm.

Given the variances in symptoms from one person to the next and the changes in individual experiences, a migraine headache diagnosis can take some investigative skills.

Do You Suffer from Migraines?

You may think you are suffering from migraines if you have frequent headaches, each lasting 4-72 hours, along with other symptoms commonly associated with migraines. These additional indications can include being sensitive to light and sound, feeling nauseous or vomiting, and having visual disturbances such as blind spots, flashes and lines moving across your field of vision.

Your History of Headaches

To diagnose whether or not you have migraines, your doctor will ask you about your history of symptoms and under which conditions they occur. Topics may include:

  • When you started having headaches
  • Whether all of your headaches exhibit the same symptoms or whether they vary
  • The frequency of your headaches and how long they last
  • Whether you’ve been able to identify what triggers your headaches
  • How you rate the level of pain you feel
  • How much the problem affects your quality of life
  • What other symptoms you have along with the headache

Family Matters

Your doctor will also want to know whether you have a family history of migraines. That’s because 70% of migraine sufferers having a family history of migraines.1 The form of migraines which runs in families is called familial hemiplegic migraine.

Medical Tests to Rule out Other Conditions

Since there is no specific test that can definitively say you have migraines, your doctor will diagnose you based on eliminating other health conditions that exhibit similar symptoms. For example, he or she will want to rule out brain tumors, blood clots, inflammation on the brain, stroke, meningitis, head trauma and the possibility of an aneurysm.

To eliminate these other health conditions, your doctor may order the following tests:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Computed Tomography CT Scans
    Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans help your doctor to determine whether you have any tumors, strokes or infections. They also show bleeding in your brain and potential nervous system conditions.
  • Spinal Tap
    In a spinal tap, the medical professional withdraws some of the fluid that surrounds your spinal cord and brain. This fluid exists to protect your brain and spinal cord from injury and to help with other vital functions. Technicians will analyze the fluid to see if there are any signs of infection, such as meningitis, or if there is bleeding in the brain as a result of trauma.
  • Blood Tests
    Blood tests help your doctor detect spinal cord infections and to find out whether there are any problems with your blood vessels or brain.

The Final Analysis

Once the doctor has evaluated your headache history, given you a physical examination and assessed your medical tests, he or she should be able to give you a migraine headache diagnosis, tell you if you have some other condition, or determine which additional tests might be needed.

1 “Migraines and family history.” http://migraine.com/migraines-and-family-history/. Accessed November 21, 2015.