Tests for diagnosing headaches

The best way your doctor can help you get an accurate diagnosis of your headache is by taking a detailed history. There are no diagnostic tests for primary headaches (headaches that are not due to an underlying condition).

Your doctor should also perform a physical examination, looking for neurological (nerve) signs that may suggest another cause for your headache. They may also check your eyes and blood pressure (although high blood pressure is rarely a cause of headache) and examine your head and neck for muscle tenderness and stiffness. Read the 'red flag' situations that may mean you should see your doctor, and which may require further investigation.

You may like to complete a headache diary before visiting your doctor so that you are able to provide better information about your headaches, such as the frequency, intensity and possible triggers. Download the NPS Headache diary or the editable Headache diary page.

Scans such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are only ever recommended by a doctor when there is reason to think a headache may be due to another (secondary) cause. These scans can be inconvenient and expensive, rarely provide any useful information and (in the case of CT scans) expose people to radiation. In most situations, the benefits do not outweigh the risks.

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